With summer only a few weeks away, this is usually the time of year when Penn begins advertising the opportunity to take summer courses online, on-campus, or abroad. For many students, summer courses are a great option. They offer the chance to catch up on requirements, take classes towards their dual degree programs, and possibly lighten their course loads for the academic year.
The academic benefits of summer courses are staggering. For Penn students who may need to bulk up with five or six credits a semester, summer courses offer a great alternative to ease the burden during the academic year and maybe even get a GPA boost. That is, if you can afford them.
The high cost of summer credits on top of restrictive summer financial aid policies make the cost of summer programming extremely unaffordable for students. As an institution that claims to make academic opportunity available for students of all financial backgrounds, Penn should commit to making summer courses an accessible option for all Penn students.
Summer courses are an incredibly difficult financial option. There are hefty price tags for on-campus summer credits, such as $4,392/c.u. for the College and up to $5,550/c.u. for Wharton. In order to even apply for financial aid during the summer, students are required to register for at least two credits — making the price tag for students who wish to receive aid go up to a minimum of $8,784/c.u. and $11,100/c.u. respectively in the College and Wharton. These costs do not include the cost of housing over the summer. Most summer subletting options in the area can be an additional $600 to $1,000 per month.
In addition to already high costs and the two credit minimum, Penn’s grant-based policy does not apply to summer financial aid. The summer financial aid therefore primarily includes loans — meaning that students would have to take on additional debt. For this reason, on their financial aid information sheet, the office of Student Registration and Financial Services “recommends that you attend summer classes only if absolutely necessary.”
Furthermore, students who are taking summer courses are forgoing the financial benefits of working full-time — something that many Penn students simply cannot afford to do. Some Penn financial aid packages require students to contribute a summer earnings requirement to help their families cover the cost of tuition during the year. Although Penn has implemented a new Summer Waiver Award Program, summer courses fall under the "Do not qualify" list as a reason for exempting you from the summer earnings requirement.
The entire system of summer courses at Penn benefits mainly wealthy students. The high cost for credits and the financial aid restrictions exclude many Penn students from the benefits that summer courses offer. Meanwhile, students who can afford the price of summer courses are granted the option of using them to ease their academic burden at Penn.
While summer courses may be deemed an unnecessary cost, the benefits they exude ripple onto many aspects of students’ academic careers. The inability to take courses during the summer might affect a students decision to double major or add a minor. If Penn aims to tackle issues of inaccessibility across academic life, summer courses should make the list.
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