Patrick Alejandro for TRW
Taking classes over winter break seems like a solid way to get ahead – or get back on track – academically. This goldmine of education comes at a hefty cost though, winter classes just don’t provide the same level of education one would expect from UMBC. Three weeks of instruction, regardless of content, makes packing in what is normally an entire semester’s worth of learning an incredible difficulty.
Here’s an experience that is all too familiar: you sign up for a hybrid course over winter break, expecting to sit back and relax at home while putting in half of the work for the class. The problem rests in the fact that courses rarely go as planned. Things get pushed back, content gets watered down and both professors and students alike become lulled by the fact that technically they’re on break.
Now your class is a week behind, and when you’ve only got three weeks to learn a full semester of material, it becomes a problem. In my case, we ended up completing one third of the planned exams, three of the 10 or more planned assignments and turning in only half of the paper drafts. The quality of the instructor didn’t seem to be the issue — they were willing to talk about changing due dates and were easily accessible, but creating enough content for three weeks of intense instruction is difficult. It seems to be the case that many professors would struggle with creating multiple online lectures every day, while also having time to grade papers and review exams.
Senior biochemistry major Forrest Bowling agreed, saying his online winter course was “barely even a class.” He admitted that it was overall still a good experience; he got feedback on essays every week and, for a general education requirement, felt as though he wasn’t missing out on too much. Had he been taking a class that was actually part of his major, though, it may have been more of an issue.
This isn’t meant to ward people off from winter classes, but to establish that there are certain dangers associated with taking classes during a break. It’s great for catching up on those pesky gym requirements, or just some general education credits that you don’t really care about. But if you have any investment whatsoever in the topic – if this is a class you really want to take – you might want to rethink things.
Otherwise, reach out to professors beforehand. Ask their advice on whether or not indulging yourself in a quick, easy three weeks is enough to plow through the material. For 100 and 200 level courses, it may not be a big deal. In most upper level courses though, it seems that a standard semester is barely enough time to make it through everything. Sure, winter classes may be much more intensive in an attempt to make up for the shortened length of instruction, but it doesn’t truly balance out. There’s the added fear of snow, a common occurrence in January, wiping out a third of your in-class time in one fell swoop.
I regret taking a winter class. It’ll probably bump my GPA, gets an essential credit out of the way and was a pretty easygoing three weeks. Nonetheless, I really wanted to consume all the material a course like the one I took could offer, and had it been a full semester long, it would have given me much more to work with. Go ahead and consider taking classes over breaks if you’re desperate, but keep in mind, it’ll always come at a cost.