Wesleyan University has joined the growing list of colleges in Connecticut offering students the choice of taking an extra class over their winter break.
Other schools, including the University of Connecticut, are expanding their winter intersession offerings, citing a demand from students who, instead of heading home for the holidays, are looking for a chance to get ahead in their studies or have a more intimate classroom experience.
"It also gives students more of an opportunity to get high-demand courses," said Susanna Cowan, the director of the programs at UConn. "There are all sorts of reasons you might not be able to fit them into your normal schedule. It's filled, or you're an athlete, just a number of things. This provides an extra chance."
At most schools, students can take just one class over the holidays. The classes meet daily, condensing a semester's worth of material into three or four weeks.
Tom Dupont, 18, a Wesleyan freshman from Cheshire, is taking a course in U.S. foreign policy over that school's six-week winter break. His class meets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day with an hourlong break at noon.
"I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity I have to get ahead," he said. "I also want to get as many major credits as I can, and it will allow me to explore in depth something that I'm really, really interested in."
Wesleyan, a private liberal arts school with about 3,200 students, is offering four classes in the program's initial year. In addition to foreign policy, the school is offering classes in data analysis, computer programming and the graphic novel. About 45 students have signed up, said Jennifer Curran, the school's interim director for continuing studies.
She said that while some, like Dupont, are taking them to get ahead, others simply didn't want such a long break in their college education.
"They like the idea of smaller classes, a calmer campus where they can really focus on their classwork," she said. "Students are usually involved in activities and performances and taking multiple classes. There is something so satisfying about delving into one single topic and focusing really hard."
Many colleges have begun offering the intersession classes. Western Connecticut, for example, has more than 300 students enrolled over break.
UConn has been offering winter break courses since 1997, when it offered 13 courses to 182 students. About 1,500 students had registered by the end of last week to attend one of the more than 119 classes over this session, which runs from Dec. 30 to Jan. 17.
UConn has a total enrollment of just over 30,000 students, including more than 17,000 undergraduates on its main campus in Storrs. More than 8,800 students enrolled in one or both of the school's summer sessions.
Cowan said a study done in 2003 found most students who attend classes in summer and winter sessions enjoyed the experience and eventually finished school early.
"That becomes, then, the payoff for them, in terms of the financial picture," she said.