January Term. Winter Intersession. Third Semester. Break Classes. No matter what your university calls them, an ever-increasing number of students are eager to cut their holiday vacation short to go back to school. Whether it be to take a fun course like Intro to Guitar or to cover a class you couldn’t fit into your regular schedule, winter intersession classes have lots to offer. However, before you sign up, consider the pros and cons of taking winter intersession classes. You may find it’s exactly what you need or a bigger hassle than you expected.
Pros of Winter Break Classes
First off, you’ll get a class or two out of the way. Many schools limit how many courses you sign up for because the term is shorter and you’ll have longer classes, but even getting a small jump on your pre-reqs can go a long way. Mainly, it can make sure you graduate on time and reduce the amount of tuition you’ll need to pay or borrow for.
Some of the classes are travel-related. For example, you might be able to take a course on architecture in Italy, religion in India, or environmental engineering in Costa Rica. For those who cannot afford to or have time to commit to a semester or year long international education trip, this is the perfect middle ground opportunity and costs only a fraction of what you would pay to enroll overseas. Plus, it still has that vacation aspect to it!
For many universities, winter intersessions are more about fun and exploration than pre-reqs and travel. Professors teach elective classes that are meant to expand your mind or give you a chance to learn a new skill, rather than to be stuck in a classroom cramming a semester’s worth of biology in two or three weeks. You could immerse yourself in a new language, taking a world cooking class, or finally learn to use that digital camera you got ages ago.
Outside of class offerings, you’ll most likely be able to move back to the half-capacity dorms earlier, hang out with friends sooner, and enjoy less crowded, more personal classrooms. If you’re looking for that quaint, small college feel, now is your time to soak it all in!
Cons of Winter Half-Terms
On the flip side, it’s important to note that many schools treat these periods not as fun and games, but as a challenge to test how much you can learn and retain in a smaller time period. For those on a quarter system, you might be used to only a few weeks of a longer class, but for those attending semester schools, the shortened class can feel rushed and hard to keep up with.
You’ll have less time to complete papers, design presentations, visit research libraries, or study for exams. The classes are usually expanded from a few hours to practically an entire day so don’t count on downtime to get your work done either. And because of how quickly everything moves and because it is break, professors may not be around or have TAs available to review materials with you when you need help. The same goes for writing or math centers and tutors — the break means everything shuts down or becomes more limited.
That stress means it certainly isn’t that stress-free holiday you were hoping for. After getting through Finals week with just the skin of your teeth, you might want to take the break and relax at home with mom and dad. But if you pick the winter classes, you’ll be back to the drafty dorms, living on cafeteria food, and racking your brain over finals papers much faster than you’re ready.
Whether you choose to kick it with your family at your usual vacation spot or take on a class back at campus, it’s important to remember to find the balance that works for you and your college goals.