How to Get the Most From Your Summer Break

Although we are still fighting snow, ice, and chilly temps, it is time to figure out what to do during the summer. Yes, already.

We have to work our way through the rest of winter and then spring, but now is definitely the time to start thinking about productive ways to fill the summer months. There are numerous options, ranging from picking up a job to doing nothing at all. How do you know what’s the right move for you? Here are some ideas:

Get an internship

This is probably the most obvious choice for undergrads. For students entering their junior or senior year in fall 2013, it can be a really important choice. It’s very competitive out there, both for internships and for that first job. Gaining experience is imperative. Many students think interning is a bad idea because they are free, but the truth is, there are many paid internships. As for those that are unpaid? Many are just as valuable.

Use your career center, first and foremost, to make sure you are taking advantage of all of the resources your college or university has to offer. You have paid for these services, so use them! There may be online job boards, alumni connections, and people in place to make sure your application is as strong as it can be. Outside of this, you have Linked In and other websites to help you network and find internship opportunities. Figure out what field you really want to learn about first-hand, and go for it!

Volunteer

Are you more interested in helping out a community than working in an office for the summer? This is definitely a grass roots generation, with more and more young adults understanding the importance of public service, and not just to build college applications.

Doing something meaningful in the community where you live, in another state, or abroad, helps build and later demonstrate character while giving back. And yes, all of this work you do benefiting others looks great on a resume, whether you’re trying to go work for the White House, apply to law school, or lead your own project on campus.

Shadow

This is an especially important option for students looking to go into a medical program. Most medical schools look for students to have several hours of shadowing experience when applying.

Shadowing is not only a great opportunity to strengthen your med school applications, but it can be an eye-opening experience that really teaches you more about yourself, and your true passions. If you’ve never seen medicine up close and personal (Grey’s Anatomy does not count), how do you know it’s a good fit for you? How do you know what specialties to consider? How will you know to apply for podiatry or dentistry? How can you demonstrate your interest aside from what you think you know, if you haven’t talked to doctors and seen what they really do?

Many students find it easiest to start with their own family doctors. But again, your career center or alumni association can also help you identify alums that have gone into medicine, and are probably more than happy to welcome you into their world for a few days. Ask them questions! Not just what they love about what they do, but even the less than glamorous sides of it all. It can really shed light on your choices, the potential joys and the sacrifices you may have to make to succeed in a particular area.

Research

Researching is a great skill to learn in college. It can come in handy in so many ways, both inside the classroom and later in the workplace. Summer is a great time to find faculty that are conducting research or running summer programs. Most programs will have a specific focus, whether scientific, economic, etc. Interested more in business? What do you think is the basis for marketing or consulting? You guessed it, research skills. Gathering and analyzing data, and using the findings to make recommendations are highly valued in these fields.

Work

Uninterested in all of the above? More attracted to getting a j-o-b for the summer months? This is an option as well. Although many summer jobs do not have the same training component as an internship, they can teach you a lot. I’ve met students that will say “I was just a server at a restaurant,” but it’s up to you to really think about what you can gain from what sometimes appears to be menial work. Time management? Customer service? Ability to multi-task? Attention to detail? All skills, and all acquirable in such a role. Camp counseling for the summer? It’s more than just ghost stories, building fires and making sure Little Johnny doesn’t aggravate his food allergies. I highly doubt you can get through the hot summer months without learning to deal with team conflict, becoming a better leader or supervisor, and improving your communication skills. The most important part of summer jobs is what you take away.

Take Classes/Study Abroad

Taking a class or two is a great way to boost your GPA, or perhaps get a few credits out of the way early. And why not do it in Morocco, or Osaka, or London? Many students enjoy the chance to study abroad during the summer because they don’t feel as though they are missing so much of their college life on campus, or interacting with their friends. And many students are surprised to find out that the costs of studying abroad are not much different than what they’d be paying to take classes and live on campus.

Most programs are set up to engross you in the native language and/or a particular subject, but you’ll always experience the culture. Going abroad seems scary for many, but I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t a life-changing experience. So adios! Ciao! Tschüs! See you in the fall!

Relax and reflect

Yes, a vacation. Time away from school. A break. Particularly after freshman year, this can be a lifesaver. The first year of school can be intense. For some, it’s the first time away from home. For others, the difficulty of coursework compared to high school.

Finding new friends, learning a new city, perhaps even dealing with a low test grade or two…it can all be draining. If there is any summer where one can benefit from taking time to reflect and just relax, it’s that first one. Reconnect with friends in your hometown. Go on a vacation with your family. Take time to reflect on the year. What went well? What didn’t? What will you do differently next year? What are you looking forward to in the second year? Use this time to recharge and focus on the year ahead.

Updated: 01/03/2017
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Britney Fields
Britney wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. She has worked in career services and higher education for nearly ten years, focused mainly on campus recruiting and college student advising. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA, working as an Associate Director at Emory University. Check her profile here.

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