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A “minimester” is a class that gives you a semester’s worth of credit after one or two weeks, usually over winter or spring break. They go by a lot of names, but at their core, they’re a fast way to accumulate credits and get ahead of your graduation schedule. In undergrad, I took “wintersession” (winter intersession) classes and spring break offerings when I could, and I’m doing the same thing now in grad school. But there are pros and cons, of course. 

Familiarize yourself with the class

Unless you’re really racing for credits (maybe to make up a failed course or graduate early), you should pay extra attention to the content of a minimester class: On one hand, if it’s a topic you don’t care about, it might be worth it to get it over with in a week or two; but on the other hand, if it’s a difficult subject, then a super-intense, truncated class might be overwhelming. This spring, I’m taking a perfect topic for an intensive class: it’s a weeklong course on drug policy that I’m extremely interested in. For me, it’s a great example of the ideal type of class for an intense semester: a subject I’m at least a little excited about. I’ve already combed through the syllabus repeatedly and started reading some of the material.

“Really familiarize yourself with the syllabus and readings beforehand so that you can fully immerse yourself in the course and not worry so much about deadlines,” says Maryam Ismail, a full-time clinical researcher and grad student who took a week-long course in public health nutrition last year. In a normal semester, you have time to get familiar with the material and expectations over the first week or two. In a minimester class, the first “two weeks” of material are blasted through in the first half-day. You don’t have the luxury of settling in, so get familiar with everything beforehand to make sure you’re able to handle it. 

Don’t overwork yourself

During a minimester course last winter, I spent the first few days trying to keep up with the readings. It was a fool’s errand. Spaced out over three months, sure, I could have read all of the studies and textbook chapters and still kept up with my work. In two weeks, it simply wasn’t happening. Instead, I started focusing on what we discussed in class and what, specifically, was being asked for in the homework—then only seriously reading and dissecting that.

Before I started grad school, a friend of mine with a PhD advised me to be discerning with which readings I actually read versus skimmed, since there’s simply not enough time to consume every suggested reading. Never was that truer than when I was trying to earn three graduate-level credits in two weeks. Skimming is your friend here. You won’t read it all, but you can absorb the basics and be at least a little prepared to learn more about the necessary information once you get back to class. To skim, read headings and other context clues like chapter titles, tables, image captions, and bolded words. Then, read the first and last sentence of each paragraph. You’ll gain a working understanding of the bones of the text and can fill in the gaps in class or while you do your assignments. 

“My biggest challenge was time management, because I wasn’t used to having the same class everyday, let alone full days of content to soak up,” says Ismail. If you’re going to tackle one of these intensive courses, you need to determine how much time you really have and which elements of the material are most important. Try using a system like the Eisenhower Matrix, which has you sort your responsibilities into four quadrants: Urgent and important, not urgent but important, not important but urgent, and not urgent and not important. Schedule your studying around these classifications and don’t feel bad if there are things you don’t get to read or engage with. You’re on a time crunch.  

Understand that an intensive course can take over your life

Lifehacker’s Beth Skwarecki, who has taught many classes, pointed out that the most important thing you can do here is accept that this course is going to dominate your life for the week or two you’re immersed in it. It’s something you have to at least accept, if not embrace. During my minimester class last year, I had the misfortune of celebrating my birthday on the penultimate day. In a minimester setting, that second-to-last day is actually like the week you’d normally devote to studying for finals; my final was the next day and it determined most of my grade. As a result, my birthday itself was mini, not very exciting at all. I had to be in class, then back the next day at 8 a.m. to present for 10 minutes on global efforts to combat AIDS in sub-saharan Africa.  

Skwarecki says you can always catch up on hobbies, TV shows, and your social life when the class is over, but bear in mind that regular breaks, even from work or school, are important to avoid burnout. These courses typically take place during the time carved out by your school to regroup after sustained work in other classes—and winter and spring break are integral to relaxing. Before signing up for a class that crams so much into the time when you’re supposed to be recuperating, consider whether you have the capacity for it. There are other options if you’d like to stay ahead of your graduation schedule, like taking a class or two in the summer. Those are more spaced out, less frantic, and still helpful for speeding up your progress. 

Still, there are good reasons to give up one break in favor of a minimester class. Domenick DiCostanzo, who returned to community college in his 30s after first attempting school at 18, did a minimester class last year before taking a single full-semester class. He says this was a great way to “get back in the swing of things” academically.

“You gotta go real hard, real fast, so when you get into a 15-week class, it’s easier. You have more time and just learned how to manage your time better, so doing a real class is simple,” he says.

Ismail agrees. Even though she says she struggled at first with having so many deadlines close together, she’s a big proponent of mini classes now that she got the hang of them: “I would always choose a condensed class if I could because you get a whole semester’s worth in one or two weeks and save so much time and it’s less dragged-out pain.” Less dragged-out pain, a glowing recommendation.

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