Understanding and Evaluating Summer Courses

Desk on a beach

It's July and while many of us might be enjoying summer vacations or trying to stay cool and not get sunburned, some students may have elected to enroll in summer courses.  The transcripts might land on your desk in the fall, with a student looking to see if they can get transfer credit. We've asked our Senior Evaluator, James Meyers, how to approach evaluating these courses.

To start, when evaluating summer courses and summer terms, it is important to first understand the academic calendar used by an educational institution.  The school's academic calendar allows a credential evaluator to establish full-time study, and from there determine the equivalent quantity of education studied.

The most common academic calendar in U.S. higher education is the semester system (two terms per year, typically 15-16 weeks duration each).  Other calendars include the quarter system (three terms, typically 10-12 weeks duration each) and the trimester system (a variation of the semester system, with three equal terms typically closer in length to semester terms).  Summer terms are an optional term beyond normal full-time or part-time study; they are full-length terms in quarter and trimester systems, but shorter and more intensive in semester systems.

Many foreign educational systems do not offer an optional summer term.  Full-time enrollment is often restricted to the normal academic calendar, whether using a semester system or other.  In some Latin American countries, in addition to regular semester schedules, schools might offer instruction on a cuatrimestre or tetramestre basis, with three or four terms per calendar year.  The term lengths could be variable, even within the same country, and an optional summer term could be included.  

If the system is designed to impart year-round instruction, then it may be reasonable to recommend more than one year of credit for each calendar year of study.

Once we know the academic calendar and the possibility of summer course offerings, it is important to consider the purpose of the summer course. In some countries, a summer course might represent non-degree study, or might be part of a session to repeat failed courses during the regular terms.  Some summer courses have been created to cater to international students, targeting study abroad students (for example, studying the language in a native setting).  In such cases, the offering institution often expects that the credits earned will transfer back to the student’s home institution (and may promote their courses that way).  However, the offering institution usually cannot guarantee such transfer without formal arrangements with specific institutions, and often those credits will not count towards the offering institution’s own degrees.  If it is not clear from the documentation, then it’s usually a good idea to contact the institution to find out if the coursework counts towards their degree requirements.

In summary, factors to consider when evaluating summer courses taken in another country:

  • the academic calendar 
  • the purpose of a summer course 
  • whether or not it counts towards a regular degree program at that educational institution 

Weighing these factors along with your institution's transfer credit policies should help you in determining whether the coursework represents the equivalent of credit or non-credit study.  

James Meyers is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 1986.  He has specialized in most country systems throughout his career at ECE, and currently focuses on training and evaluation policy development.



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