Summer break can’t come soon enough for college students. After a couple of semesters of the daily college grind, it’s time for some well-deserved rest. Or is it?
Many college students certainly do take the time during summer break and chill out, go on road trips, play video games, etc. But let me break this to you now, those of you that do this during the summer are not the ones that will get ahead when it comes time to finding a job when you graduate.
How should college students spend their summer breaks? They should spend them by staying focused on the task at hand. Which is…find a job after college. Your summer break is a golden opportunity to build experience and skills outside of the classroom and you must take advantage of this.
Beginning the summer between your sophomore and junior year, the expectation is that you should have your first internship. Some will be fortunate enough to land an internship after their freshman year, but it’s more common after your sophomore year.
An internship is a must. I push students to have at least 2 internships while in college. This experience is critical. You will be exposed to the environment and work you are pursuing in the real world outside of the classroom.
The type of internship you choose is very important as well. Be sure to find an opportunity that both challenges you and is beneficial to your career plan.
If you haven’t landed an internship over the summer or if it’s a part-time internship, then I highly recommend doing volunteer work.
Volunteer work is highly rewarding and allows you to see work from an entirely different perspective. You are doing the work truly for the work itself and to hopefully be helping others. Money isn’t the goal as it all too often is in our “day jobs”.
Volunteer work can also open career possibilities for you. Even if you can only invest a few hours a week into volunteering or doing some sort of community outreach, then do it. Your heart will thank you.
Job shadowing is a great way to learn about a career and requires very little time and commitment to do so.
Job shadowing is especially helpful for those of you that are still in the career discovery phase of your career journey. When you shadow someone, you are literally watching them do their job. And good shadow programs are structured and are built to allow you to ask questions along the way. This doesn’t mean that you can’t casually job shadow someone that you find on your own. Either is a great method.
To find opportunities to job shadow, you will need to do some networking. Start with people you know that can open some doors for you. This includes your professors, career services, other students. And also, family members, friends and former colleagues can be sources of job shadowing opportunities.
As far as how long you should job shadow, it can be just one day, one full week or once a week for a month. It all depends on how much is involved in the job you are shadowing and the amount of time the person you are shadowing is willing to invest.
Stay on Campus
Another option for your summer break is to just stay on campus. Perhaps you can find opportunities to work in the department your major is in and learn from professors and other staff in the department.
There could also be part-time opportunities in and around the city your college is based in that could help broaden and develop your skillset. For example, if you are studying engineering, it may be a good idea to find something that allows you to work with people. This can balance out your skills with both tangible applied skills (engineering) and soft skills (working with people).
I don’t hide that fact that I’m a huge advocate of mentoring. It’s a must in college. And a great time to start your mentoring journey is during a summer break. This allows more time for you to meet with a mentor and establish a relationship.
I recommend that you build a career plan prior to being mentored so you have something you and your mentor can work off of.
Once your relationship is established with your mentor, you can maintain it once classes start back up. You will not be able to meet as often, but that’s okay since you got off to a great start during the summer.
Be a Mentor
Do you have a knack for and enjoy teaching others? Being a mentor is a great way to spend your summer. There are plenty of high school students that could benefit from having a college student as a mentor.
Your role would be to give practical and actionable advice on how to properly prepare for college. You can help these students make connections at your college if they have a desire to attend the same school as you.
Mentoring is life changing for both parties involved. I promise that you will get a lot out of coaching and helping someone along their path to college.
Spending your summer staying in class is not ideal for most. But if you are driven to get ahead, then it will pay off by potentially graduating early. Summer classes are also a great time to take some more of your challenging courses if they’re offered. The class sizes are much smaller which means you may benefit from having more one on one time with a professor and be able to work with other students.
If you are struggling with your GPA, then summer school is another way to help quickly raise it. You can load up on courses that you can ace, and it will bump that GPA of yours right up!
Study or Visit Abroad
If you have an itch to travel overseas, then scratch this itch on your summer break. But just don’t go without getting something in return (other than souvenirs and pictures). Look into study abroad programs that you can get credit for.
Check out Summerfuel. They have a variety of programs that will allow you to visit and study abroad at the same time.
Start a Side Business
This piece of advice is for the hustlers out there. You know who you are! If you have a desire to own your own business someday or are specifically studying entrepreneurship in school, then starting your own business is an awesome way to spend the summer!
You can certainly try going alone in your business venture, but I would encourage you to seek a fellow college friend or two that will join forces with you.
You need to take the process seriously in order to be taken seriously. This means creating a business plan and thoughtfully building out a business strategy. This shows initiative and good business sense which is what you want to gain out of the experience.
Need some inspiration? Here’s a list of ideas from Entrepreneur magazine to help get you started.
Relax for a Bit
Okay, okay, maybe you can find some time to relax if you must. Just because I encourage college students to make the most of the limited time they have before they graduate and move on to a career, I do realize that downtime is necessary.
So, if possible, take a couple weeks of during your summer break to do whatever you want to do. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s a road trip or taking improv classes. Whatever floats your boat works!
I would think the best time to do this is right before you head back to campus. This allows you to reenergize and go back in guns a blazing!
- A summer internship is a must as a college student. If you are a sophomore or above, you should be spending each summer working an internship. This gives you experience that you can take into a career and is a requirement on any college student’s resume.
- Look for opportunities to volunteer during your summer break. Volunteering is a great way to gain exposure to a variety of environments that you otherwise wouldn’t experience. Volunteering is also just a great way to give back to the community and help others.
- Job shadowing is a terrific way to test potential careers out. This will give you a day in the life of a career and will often lead to the deciding factor on whether you choose to pursue a career or not. I encourage you to shadow more than one jobs and take advantage of the opportunity by asking a lot of questions.
- Stay put. Look for opportunities on campus for the summer. There could be opportunities within the college itself or part-time jobs available on campus that will allow you grow and develop skills. The competition may not be as fierce in the summer which can also give you a leg up.
- Look for a mentor. Summer is the perfect time to establish a relationship with a mentor. You typically will have more time to dedicate to meeting with a mentor and therefore will get more out of the meetings. Try to schedule as many meetings as you can during the summer, so you take full advantage of your light schedule.
- Take a high school student under your wing and mentor them. This is a great opportunity for you to give back to others who need advice. You may not think that you have a lot to offer, but you would be surprised at how much help you could provide to an aspiring college student.
- Stay in school during the summer. Summer classes are a bummer for most, but it can give you an advantage and can often lead to an early graduation. Summer classes are also a great way to raise your GPA if you need it.
- Study abroad. If you have a desire to go overseas, make the most of it by enrolling in a study abroad program for the summer. This will give you a double advantage of adding worldly travels to your experience as well as studying in another culture.
- If you’re a hustler and have a desire to start your own business someday, then start now! The summer is a great time to start your business venture. Solicit a friend or two to help you out and see where it goes. This is awesome resume material.
- Take it easy. As much as I encourage college students to take full advantage of their summer break, I do realize that an actual break is needed. So be sure to find some time to relax and recharge before you head back to campus.
Grit and drive are what sets college students apart when the playing field is even. If you are determined enough, then you can accomplish any goal you set for yourself. Sacrificing your summer breaks is often what the best of the best college students do to get ahead. And I can promise you from my own experience in hiring many college students, this sacrifice always pays off.
Anthony lives in Indiana with his wife and 3 daughters. His passions (besides his family) in no particular order are making and listening to music that pleases his ears, taking pictures (still & moving), avoiding crowded places and good writing. He also happens to be the Founder of Career Energy.