Boosting Grades at Summer School

While working through our application and admission data, we see quite a few applicants who have done a required course at summer school, especially among Ontario residents.  (It doesn’t seem to be so common in other provinces.  I wonder why?)  We know that the theory/rumour is that you can get higher grades at summer school and thereby boost your admission average and chances of acceptance into the more competitive programs.  We also hear concerns from other applicants and parents that this is an unfair advantage, because some are unable to attend summer school for various reasons.  Currently we don’t penalize applicants taking summer school courses (unless it is to repeat a required course), but maybe we should?  Since we like evidence-based decision-making, let’s use some data to see if summer school does give a significant advantage.

I’m going to use the Ontario grade data for applicants from a previous year, for the course ENG4U (Ontario grade 12 English), since that seems to be the most common summer school course choice.  We divide the data into two groups, 1) those that took the course during a Fall or Winter semester (or both, for non-semestered schools); and 2) those that took it during a summer session.

For group 1 (regular school) we have:  1,999 grades, with mode 80%, mean 79.1%, and standard deviation 10.5.

For group 2 (summer school) we have:  654 grades, with mode 80%, mean 81.7%, and standard deviation 8.3.

Almost 25% or our applicants in Ontario that year did ENG4U in summer school!  Looking at the statistics, the most frequent grade (mode) is the same for both groups (80%), and the summer school mean (average) grade is slightly (2.6%) higher.  Of course, we need to run Student’s t-test to determine if this 2.6% difference is statistically significant, and it turns out that it is (at the 95% confidence level).

It seems that the theory is correct, you can get a higher mark in summer school, if only slightly higher.  But that’s not the complete picture.  We also should look at the distribution of grades to see what’s happening.  So, below is a graph of the cumulative probability of grades for the two groups.


The grade distributions look fairly similar, especially at the upper end, but there might be some difference at the low end.  I ran a two sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov significance test on the two distributions to quantify whether they are really different and it turns out that they are statistically different.

So, have we proven that taking English in summer school will give you a higher grade?  No!  We have to remember that correlation does not prove causation.  How do we know that the summer school students aren’t self-selecting in some way, so that the two groups are not really comparable?  The only way to determine this would be to take 1,000 students and randomly force one group to do summer school, while the other group is forced to do regular school English.  This is not likely to happen.

Conclusions and Comments

So, it does appear that taking a summer school ENG4U course is correlated with a slight benefit for whatever reason, of 2.6% on average.  This  would boost a six course admission average by 0.43%, which is probably not going to make much difference for anyone except very borderline decisions.

However, there is a significant hidden downside to the summer school strategy.  While spending time in class, applicants may not be getting as much of that work and/or volunteer experience that we like to see, resulting in a lower Admission Information Form (AIF) score.  So, in fact, the summer school strategy may be counter-productive and actually reduce your chances.  And as you can see in the graph above, it is possible to get relatively low grades in summer school too.

When asked, I rarely advocate doing summer school unless it’s necessary for some specific reasons.  I would rather see our applicants get some “real world” work, volunteer, or other experiences that will look good on their AIF and their resume when applying for that first co-op employment experience in our engineering programs.  Employers are not impressed by summer school.

So, back to the original question.  Should we penalize applicants who take summer school courses?  No, this (and other data we have reviewed) doesn’t seem to suggest there is a strong reason to implement any penalties.  Any advantage is pretty minor, especially considering all the other variables that could be involved.

58 thoughts on “Boosting Grades at Summer School

  1. Thanks for the post!!
    I’m currently retaking my advanced functions course in night school. I’m applying for computer science and I want my marks to be higher. How will this affect my chances?
    And what if I had a legitimate reason for taking it again?

    • Sorry, I can’t really answer the first question. Computer science admissions are handled by the Faculty of Mathematics, not Engineering. They have their own procedures, and I’m not very familiar with them. Of course, you should always explain your circumstances on your Admission Information Form so the admission team can make the most appropriate decisions about course repeats.

  2. Is night school frowned upon if it’s not a prerequisite course? How would be go about explaining it in the AIF?

    Also, on the AIF would you prefer seeing a condensed list of major extracurriculars, or is it okay to mention a long list of them even if some are minor commitments?

    Thank you!

    • Night school is not an issue for any course. Just briefly mention why you ended up taking a night school course. It just helps us understand your record.

      In my opinion, a long list of minor activities can detract from your more major activities. I would focus on the ones that you found most meaningful or enjoyable.

      • Thank you for your advice!

        Just two more quick questions. I made two small typos in my AIF. I’m quite nervous about this, and I really don’t want this to negatively impact my application. Is there anything I can do?

        Also, is the AIF taken into consideration for the first round of acceptances?

      • A couple of minor typos shouldn’t have any effect. We’re more concerned with persistent grammar and spelling errors. There is no way to make revisions once it’s submitted anyways.

        The AIF score is used in the first round if available.

  3. I am repeating a course in private school since I can’t fit it in my day school schedule and night school is full and I know about the 3-5 penalty, but it won’t increase due to private school right?

  4. I got a 64% in my advanced functions class last semester so I’m taking it again during night school and I hope to improve my mark. How will this affect my admission?

    • We may have to apply the repeat course penalty (up to 5% off the overall average). You should explain your situation in your AIF, and make sure your night school submits a mid-term grade through OUAC before our admission round in early May (assuming you are in Ontario).

  5. My first semester was really bad. Due to a lot of unfortunate incidents in my family, my grades weren’t good at all. Because of that I’ve had to change my first program choice. And now this semester I’m retaking a course in night school and will hopefully retake another during day school. The 1st course is a prequisite while the other is an elective. This means I’ll be taking my top 6 courses this semester.

    I just wanted to know how this will affect my overall admission? In a good or bad way? How much does 2nd semester count towards getting admitted?

    Sorry if it was too long.
    Thank you

    • Sorry to hear that things didn’t go so well. This is one of those complicated cases that we consider on an individual basis, so it’s hard to say much here. Based on what you’re saying, it seems unlikely you will get an offer in the early round (March). But we make the majority of our decisions and offers in early May, so you will still definitely have a chance at that point, hopefully with the improved prerequisite mark. The 2nd semester grades are usually quite important for the May offers, because that’s when most people take another couple of the required courses.

  6. Maybe it’s just my district where summer school was MUCH easier, but I know quite a few people in my school who took summer school and night school and their averages have been 7-8% higher than their previous year’s. Especially for people who’s not very proficient at English, a 75 -> 80 is worth a lot.

    Personally I didn’t take summer school because I had projects planned over the summer and I didn’t want to take any “cheap” routes. Maybe summer school courses should also be weighted based on historical performance independently.

  7. After applying to Software Engineering at Waterloo, I’ve really appreciated the information and time you put in to this website. Also, for this article specifically, and as someone who’s taken AP Statistics, it’s nice how you have given us the data so we can draw our own conclusions, but also performed and talked about T-tests and confidence intervals. And of course the ever important “Correlation does not imply causation”. Thank you for maintaining this website, and hopefully I’ll see you next year at Waterloo! (albeit not in one of your classes)

  8. Hey thank you for taking your time to answer these questions:

    1.) I made a mistake on my AIF regarding the completion of a score and I need to change physics being completed at day school to night school. I understand that I can make an amendment and I was wondering if this will put me at a disadvantage when compared to a student that did not have any mistakes?

    2.) If you repeat a course, is the 3-5% deducted from that specific course or is it deducted from the overall top 6 average?

    3.) Considering how I’m taking night school, do I have to include the name of the school under the education history or post-secondary education part of the AIF?

    Thank you for answering the questions !

    • 1) no, minor mistakes or changes are unlikely to have any effect.
      2) the 3-5% is deducted from the overall average, so it’s equivalent to up to 30% off the grade of one course (out of six).
      3) It wouldn’t hurt to list the name. If you’re in Ontario, there is a small chance that the data will look like you are not taking physics at all, so listing it in the AIF can help protect you from outright rejection in May. (Explanation: when you drop a day school course and add night school, sometimes the mid-term grades don’t get submitted by the night school properly or in time. Then, to us it sometimes looks like you’re not taking a required course.)

  9. I’m applying for the Architechture co-op program next year.. And was wondering if taking 4U English online this summer will affect my admission? I will also have a full time job this summer.. So I’m not sure if its a great idea.. Any thoughts?

  10. I find that some other schools are able to do their Grade 11 and 12 courses semestered, which makes it easier for them which in turn could possibly lead into higher marks.At my highschool we don’t have any semestered subjects; we must to all courses in the same period of time. Do those looking over my admissions take this into consideration? Or is it something that will have to be overlooked?

    • I’ve analyzed semestered versus non-semestered school performance in the past. In our data it did not seem to have any significant effect, so we do not take it into consideration either way.

  11. What is the data like for taking private school for ENG4U? I’m assuming that there’s a big discrepancy between day school and private, since most universities deduct private school grades.

  12. Taking summer English course may also boost grades of other courses because it saves a lot of times in regular school studies

    • Possibly, although that hypothesis is difficult to test. We continue to look for statistical evidence that summer school courses are a factor of concern for admissions.

  13. For Health Sciences program in university does it matter if you take English for grade 12 in summer school ?

  14. I am wondering which grade 12 english university course is better summer school english or e-learning? Which will yield a higher mark? And what do universities think about e-learing courses? If I take the e-learning be penalized? I have nothing planned over the summer I just want to make good use of my time and get a high mark to get into the program of my choice.

    Your advice will be appreciated, thank you.

    • Waterloo Engineering doesn’t care one way or the other, summer school or online courses, as long as it’s not a repeat. Online courses require more self-motivation, so that depends on the individual. I have seen high grades from both summer and online courses. I have also seen terrible grades from summer and online courses, so there is no obvious “best” route as far as I see.

      If you were aiming for Engineering admission, I would skip the summer courses and do something that will build your resume, like work or significant volunteer experience. In the long run, that will be much more beneficial no matter where you go.

  15. Does Waterloo Engineering take high school rankings into consideration, or perhaps the performance of students from a certain high school?

  16. Help,
    My son is taking ENG4U in advance this Sumer and his average is 65% in this cource and after three weeks of studying hard he wants to leave and take the same course during regular school his average in all other cources is above 80% and he wants to apply for engineering in your university please help with your opinion or advice.
    Thanks in advance

    • Definitely needs a minimum 70% to be considered, so re-taking the course might be necessary if he doesn’t drop it. Aiming for as high as possible in the other required courses can make up for a lower English mark, since we base decisions on the average (assuming all required course grades are over 70%).

  17. I am not able to fit in Grade 12 Academic Physics during my day school as I had to catch up with some courses from Grade 9 – 11 as I was sick for three months in Grade 9. I go for a special program so I have to take Technology and Physics is at the same time in day school. I am planning to take Physics in peel night school. If I don’t get in or peel cancels the course, I am planning to take private credit through Ontario approved private schools. Will this be a problem if I apply at waterloo for engineering?

  18. Thank you for taking your time to answer my question, it means a lot to me. I want to know if Waterloo cares about what order they are placed in. So for example, will I have a less likely chance of getting into the program if I rank them second instead of first? Also, if you don’t have a really high mark (around 88%) will having a lot of extracurriculars have a impact on getting accepted?

    P.S. I want to get into the AFM program

  19. I am planning to take ENG4U through a private school that’s approved since the class is smaller than a regular English class in day school, and I can get more attention and help from the teacher, which is helpful for immigrants like me. Is there a penalty(3%-5%) of my average then? If I am applying to Mechanical or Electrical Engineering and my average is around 94(with the English credit from private school), do I have a chance?

  20. I am taking ENG 4U in night school this semester. So does that mean it will be looked at as the exact same as the regular daytime course?

  21. Hey im considering taking grade 12 english in summer school and applying to Waterloo in the fall.Will my summer school final grade be reduced even if its the first time I am taking the course?

  22. Our education system is heading towards an impending doom sir.
    I know one person in my class who has bare 62% in calc and advance functions, he went to private school one week before the mid term, and now he has 95% in both courses.

    So much for slightly higher? My Ass.

    And Ofcourse, He just got accpted by Waterloo AFM. Almost everyone in our grade who is taking day school is telling Grade 11s to not take it in day school anymore, schools like Waterloo,UofT, Queens are the ones who are ultimately shooting them selves in the foot.

    • Yes, private schools and other strategies continue to be a concern and we’re looking at additional techniques to suppress it. If it’s any consolation, in my experience such students are frequently the ones who flame-out in our first year and end up wasting $10,000+.

      • Not from what I see.
        Out of the seven students in our school who were admitted to Queens Commerce, Six took summer school or private. Four out of seven kids who were admitted to Waterloo AFM have taken private or night or summer or what ever it is that will get them the high marks.
        The admission team have led to this out of control system, You think right now there is already a large amount of private/summer/night school kids? Wait until next year! From what I am seeing, atleast 30% of students are taking english in summer.Because our school only give 1-2 90s in one class.
        I doubt that 40% of student will be flamed out, how can you flame out ants when they already taken over half of the system?

        It pains me when I got no offers for having a honest academic choice from schools like Ivey and Queens yet those who buys their way into those schools walking around bragging their offers and wave it at my face.

  23. So does waterloo deduct your grade 12 english mark if you take in summer school? If yes by how many percent?

      • Hello Professor,

        I am a fan of your blog, and have been following it for the last year. I was reassured by this post that summer school English would not be a problem, however your latest comment worries me. I took summer school English online because I wanted to make room for Computer Engineering Technology (TEJ4M); my guidance department also said that it would be okay. I reviewed this blog and I thought that it would be okay; but now I am worried because of the possible changes to this policy. I don’t think its fair to change the policy now, because there is not much we can do about it. I really want to enter the University of Waterloo for Engineering, and would be disappointed if my marks would be treated differently. I hope my case can help the faculty makes changes to the policy appropriately.

      • We are still reviewing our policies and procedures about summer school courses. It probably won’t affect most people, even if it does change. There will be more information in the near future.

  24. Pingback: Back to Summer School | A Professor in Waterloo Engineering

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