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Summer courses at Hillsdale College are like intense physical fitness for the brain. If those brain muscles are a little flabby, don’t fret: One dose of upper-level English will tighten up all those loose trains-of-thought in no time.

Cov­ering a semester’s worth of material in one three-week session is not for the faint of heart, but if you are ded­i­cated to the per­fection of your edu­cation, then take a summer course. Like the stages a body goes through to get back into shape, a student goes through similar phases during summer classes.

Phase one: the first day. Just like when you first make a New Year’s res­o­lution to lose weight, on the first day of classes you are fired up and ready to learn. You show up bright-eyed and excited to hear what the pro­fessor is going to say. But how long does a New Year’s res­o­lution last? As one could guess, this is the shortest phase of summer classes.

Phase two: the “second thoughts” phase. This phase usually starts in the first class, some time between the handing out of the syl­labus and the assignment of the first homework. Compare this phase to actually making it to the gym for the first time that year, and looking around only to realize you are in uncharted waters. There are weight machines with so many knobs, handles, and moving parts they could be space­ships, and many skinny women on ellip­ticals running at a pace that would chal­lenge any Olympian.

Then you see the man lifting a weight twice your size, face as red as a cherry and looking like he might need some serious medical attention soon or at least someone to help him put his arms fully down to his sides. Mostly, phase two of summer classes could be summed up in one phrase: “What am I doing here?”

After a couple of vent ses­sions to your friends, a dra­matic call to your parents, and a good cry-session later, you are ready to enter phase three of summer classes: the real­ization stage. You take a second look at your homework assignment. At first, reading an 800-page book in three days feels impos­sible with the judg­mental eyes of those stick-thin ellip­ti­calists staring at you. But once you are back home, sur­rounded by the comfort of Oreos and peanut butter, you realize that you can do this. Though you may not be as strong as Mr. Cherry or as fast as Ms. Twiglet, you are still there to learn and improve yourself, just like them. So they can just stand back and watch you work.

You are now entering stage four: the sweat stage. Now that you have given yourself the pep-talk of your life, you are ready to work. Step by step, you run a mile farther; page by page, you finish that book. Does it hurt? Yes. The words on the page burn your eyes as you read late into the night, your head spinning from the physical tax­ation of poetic fig­u­rative lan­guage and sym­bolism. But you push on. Eat, Sleep, Study. You basi­cally breathe summer school.

Then you dis­cover some­thing odd. Despite burning eyes and a spinning head, you are not only suc­cess­fully par­tic­i­pating in summer classes, but you actually enjoy them. This is stage five: the blissful stage. After reg­u­larly using your brain muscles, you auto­mat­i­cally begin to crave those jogs through the metaphorical lan­guage of poems. It becomes a daily ritual, a normal part of your schedule, without which you feel out of balance, unpro­ductive, and frankly, fat. The readings for class don’t exhaust you anymore. Instead, they excite and enlighten you, making it easy to read late into the night and come back the next day fit and ready to learn.

Next thing you know, phase six is upon you: the home stretch. It is the race you have pre­pared for all summer, the original moti­vation for that stupid New Year’s res­o­lution. But instead of having a full week to cram with last-minute studying, you have one night.

But don’t stress. You have trained dili­gently for the past three week. All that fig­u­rative lan­guage and sym­bolism has become second nature to you. You eat fig­u­rative lan­guage for breakfast. Now it is time to ace that final, and run the cham­pi­onship lap to the relax­ation of summer without school.

So if you are con­sid­ering taking summer classes here at Hillsdale, here is my advice: Hours upon hours of reading may test your endurance, and stretch your brain in ways it never has before, but if you believe you can endure the ordeal, summer classes will be the most rewarding and enlight­ening “race” you can com­plete at Hillsdale College.