Advice for Students: What to Do With Your Summer

Ah, my fellow students. Nice to get to speak with you once again. By the time you read this, I might be taking (or have already taken) my last final on my journey to get a Master’s degree (possibly my last final ever, depending on whether I go back at some point to get a Ph.D. on top of all my current education). It’s going to feel good to be done with that (even if that primarily means I have to focus on grading students’ lab reports and getting through my research as swiftly as humanly possible).

But I’m not going to be talking about taking finals today; I’ve already shared advice on doing well on your finals, both by preparing throughout the semester and what to do at the last minute, and won’t go through that again (besides, I don’t know about you, but after taking my last final, I’m more than ready to forget about finals). Instead, this time around we’re going to be discussing what happens after the finals; yup, we’re talking about what you can do over the summer to expand your knowledge, your skills, and yes, possibly even your job prospects.

Summer Life Improvement Activities

There’s no reason that the summer has to be a lazy time where you simply relax, watch the TV, hit the beach, and generally veg out. Not that I imagine too many college students would complain about that, but hear me out: There’s a lot of possibilities for you to expand your mind, and in many cases to increase your chances of getting a good job (or being accepted into a graduate program) at the same time. Some of the things you can do over the summer include:

1. Take an Internship: Is there a company you’d love to work for, but you don’t know how to get your foot in the door? Then see if they have an internship program to which you could apply. As an intern, you’d work for free (or possibly at a low wage) at the company, generally assisting with basic jobs, as you learn how the company functions and get to know the people there.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why should I spend my summer working FOR FREE, when I could be making money at the local burger place?” Well, unlike the local burger place, most places that offer internships are the sort of places where you can start a career. Besides being an opportunity to ‘test drive’ a company, to see if it’s genuinely somewhere you’d enjoy working, you also get a chance to meet with people who’ll have a say in whether you are hired down the line. Three months as coffee bringer and paperwork sorter might not seem like any fun, but if it means getting a decent job right out of college a year or two from now at a company you’d love to call your boss, it’s definitely worth considering.

2. Try Working Abroad: If you’re still intent on being paid this summer (and I can’t say that I’d blame you), there’s still no need to limit yourself to working a minimum wage job at the nearest Wal-Mart. You can instead look into working abroad, giving yourself an opportunity to experience a foreign country while still earning at least some money in the process. One possibility to consider (although far from the only one) is working as an English instructor; there are more than a few foreign companies and governments who’d love to have a native speaker come to help teach their employees how to speak English. (Bonus points if you are at least semi-conversant in the native tongue.)

If you're better than me at recognizing what some of these multi-lingual words mean, you're already doing pretty well.

Now, finding a position might be a little tricky; it will take some work and time (which might mean having to save this goal for next summer), but when you do find it, it can provide you with a chance to see more of the world while still drawing in that helpful paycheck (even if happens to be denominated in Euros, pounds, or yen). Barring finding a job, you could potentially simply visit some foreign countries over your break; ‘backpacking through Europe’ is practically a cliché for college students, after all. That will cost money, though, so perhaps you’d be better served by:

3. Starting a Business: A few decades ago, the idea of a college student (or group of college students) starting a business in between semesters might have sounded ludicrous, or at least incredibly rare. Now, with stories of successful businesses started by college students all over the news (just look at Facebook), the understanding that you can run a decent business (if not necessarily the next Facebook) from your dorm room or bedroom back at your mom’s home should be nearly universal. There are plenty of options to consider, from tutoring upcoming students to blogging, and it’d definitely be nice to go back to school as one of the few students with more money, particularly if you can keep that income incoming during the school year.

4. Take Summer Classes: If you’re looking for something a bit more academic, you could take some classes over the summer. It will cost money to take those courses, but if you plan things right, you might be able to cut a semester (or even entire year) off the time it takes you to get your degree, ultimately saving yourself money in the process. Beware, though: summer courses at many universities tend to be brutal, cramming three to four months’ worth of material into a four to six week period. Expect to go to class for several hours each weekday, and get a test every week. (Don’t even get me started on what your lab schedule will look like if you are taking a physical science course like Organic Chemistry; let’s just say you can kiss your weekdays goodbye.) If you go this path, stick with the easier courses on your curriculum, and take only one or at VERY most two at a time (trust me, even one course can do you in, if you aren’t prepared). On the subject of learning:

5. Learn On Your Own: I’m hoping you’d do this, even if you are also doing one (or more) of the items listed above, but it’s worth mentioning on its own. Not all of your education has to be in a classroom, and not all of your learning has to be planned out by a professor. With the power of the Internet (to say nothing of that fun place you probably avoided like the plague all semester, the library), it’s possible to learn almost anything you could want, and plenty of things you might never have even thought to learn. Some of the things I’d suggest:

Money Management/Investing (Hardly surprising, given that I’m a personal finance blogger; still, you will need to be able to handle money in your life, and getting a start on it now will only help you.)
Computer Programming/Website Design (The Internet is not going anywhere, and the better you are at creating content for it, the easier things like blogging or simply functioning online will be for you.)
Foreign Language Speaking/Reading (I’ve mentioned this before, but here it is again: speaking more than one language will only help you in the future, to say nothing of aiding you in that whole ‘working abroad’ area.)
-Speed Reading (In a world where there are billions of sources of information, mostly in printed text form, whether it takes you six minutes or sixty minutes to read through something can have a big impact on your ability to succeed.)

These are hardly the only options; a little online searching will yield dozens of possibilities. You could easily spend your whole summer learning, as there’s really no limit to human knowledge, at least not any you need to worry about hitting by spending your summer trying to learn.

There’s plenty that you can do this summer, plenty that will leave you smarter, better informed, and possibly even richer come fall. You’ve got great potential; be sure to take advantage of it.

Speaking of which, how would YOU spend a summer off? If you’re a current college student, what are your plans? If you’re already out in the real world, what would you tell the upcoming students to do with their free time?

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