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Articles / Majors & Careers / 11 Ways to Use Your Summer Break Wisely

11 Ways to Use Your Summer Break Wisely

Joy Bullen
Written by Joy Bullen | May 26, 2021
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Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash

Internships Are Hard To Find, But Students Can Still Gain Skills, Network, and Prepare for College This Summer

Improve Your College Application, Network, and Gain Skills This Summer, Without An Internship

All over, people seem to be gearing up for a summer filled with the barbecues, beach trips, and family reunions that were so sorely missed last summer. But high school and college students may notice one thing is still missing this summer: internships and summer programs. Internships require planning and hiring months in advance, and with the future of the pandemic and speed of vaccine rollout still uncertain this winter, many organizations chose to forego their summer programs all together. According to data from the Indeed Hiring Lab, this spring's job postings for internships were down 39 percent from 2019, and 15 percent from 2020.

Internships have long served as a way for students to gain valuable skills and experience, explore different fields, network, and even earn a little bit of money. But if you didn’t land an internship this summer there are still things you can do to enhance your college application, learn new skills, and set yourself up for success in the future.

1.Earn college credits

Recents grads and current high school students can take classes for college credit over the summer. For those still applying to college, a solid grade in a college-level course will look good on your application and may even help you score a strong recommendation from the professor. Taking a college class can help you keep your academic-muscles strong, and develop good reading strategies and study habits before the stakes are too high. As a bonus, you may even save yourself time and money by earning credits that can be transferred into your college of choice. You can either fulfill one of your schools’ requirements, like math or language, or to explore a new area of interest, like art history or psychology. Taking a college class over the summer might be an especially good option for someone who wants to double major, because it may cut down on the requirements.

Check your local community college’s website; most offer affordable summer classes that students can enroll in without being a full-time student. Or, explore courses offered through Outlier, an innovative new company that offers for-credit online college courses. All classes are taught by professors from top schools, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Davidson, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and more. They currently offer intro courses in Philosophy, Astronomy, Micro and Macroeconomics, Psychology, Statistics and Calculus right now, but the $400 price tag for a three-credit course is significantly cheaper than an average college course at a top-tier school. Students who successfully complete the course can request a transcript showing transferable credits from an Outlier partner school, like University of Pittsburgh. And the best part: students who complete all of the assignments and don’t pass the class can apply for a full refund.

2. Get a head start on essays

The Common App released their 2021-2022 essay prompts, making it easy for rising seniors to start to work on their essays over the summer break, with distractions the school year brings. Most college essays require multiple drafts before they’re ready to submit. Starting sooner rather than later leaves plenty of time for feedback and revisions. There’s no need to stress about the first draft. Just choose a question that grabs you, read up on essay-writing tips, and then start writing. Not feeling that question? Choose another one and start over. The best way to improve your writing is - that's right - to write.

3. Study for the SAT or ACT

Whether you’re preparing to take the SAT or ACT for the first time, or retaking the test to try to bring up your scores, summer is the perfect time to study. There are lots of free online study resources for both tests. Visit our test prep hub to learn more about how to prepare for the tests and what kind of scores to be shooting for, and check out our ACT resources, which include practice tests and a link to get registered.

4. Visit schools

In the past, students have been discouraged from visiting colleges when school is not in session, but in the era of social distancing, summer might just be the best time to visit campuses. Camping in Maine? Check out Colby, Bowdoin or Bates. Planning a beach vacation on the Outer Banks? Pencil in a day trip to William & Mary or Old Dominion. Wherever your summer travels may take you (or not), use our handy college search tool to look for schools nearby, and see if you can fit an afternoon on campus into your plans.

Even if the school isn’t on your list, it can help to get a feel for different types of schools, especially schools that could be solid match or safety schools for you. A school you weren’t seriously considering may even surprise you and end up on the top of your list. Before you go, call ahead or check the school’s website for COVID visiting guidelines, and read our tips on optimizing summer college visits.

5. Gain experience through volunteer work

If your budget and schedule allow, volunteering is an excellent way to gain valuable experience, explore potential career areas, and give back to your community. You may even earn a scholarship in the process. The youth social change non-profit DoSomething.org offers several volunteer opportunities (or campaigns), ranging from organizing food drives for your local food pantry, to hosting a diversity book club to reaching out to isolated seniors. These opportunities earn you verified volunteer credits that can count towards any volunteer hours your school or other organizations require. Students who successfully complete campaigns get a certificate, and a change to win scholarships. One student, Ricardo, recently won a $2000 scholarship for his participation in a campaign called “Take Back the Prom” which collected used prom clothes for students who couldn’t afford new dresses or suits.

If you’d rather volunteer with local organizations, ask your friends and family if they know of opportunities, or search for opportunities in your areas on VolunteerMatch.org.

6. Network with informational interviews

One of the most valuable parts of internships is the opportunity to get a glimpse into what it’s really like to work in a certain kind of job, company or industry. If you didn’t land an internship this summer, you can still get a feel for different types of jobs by holding informational interviews, or setting up job shadows. Reach out to people you know who have interesting jobs, or do some research into the companies or organizations that interest you. You can reach out to people via LinkedIn, or through email, and explain that you are researching career paths and would like to meet for coffee, or a quick video chat. Some people might not respond, but some might. Many people are honored to be asked, and happy to talk about themselves and their career. Bonus, if you like what you hear, having met with someone ahead of time may give you and in for an internship or part-time job in the future. Incoming college students may even want to ask if they have any remote opportunities for students throughout the school year, which could help you gain work experience and make some money while in school.

7. Hone a new skill

There are more ways than ever to learn new skills and explore different areas. Many sites offer free or low-priced online courses in a variety of subjects.

If you master any of the skills you learn, consider reaching out to a small, local business to see if they could benefit from your newfound skill. You could offer to design a new logo or business card, refine their social media strategy, or write a blog post for their website. Not only will you have a chance to apply your new skills, you’ll have something to add to your resume or college application, and you may even help a business out after a trying year. Who knows, it could even be the start of a beautiful career.

8. Practice a language

Hoping to study abroad in Italy, or Argentina, or Japan but don’t know the language? Or simply want to keep up with the language you’ve been studying in school? Whatever your goal, there are plenty of easy, affordable ways to learn and practice a language. Duolingo and Babbel are two of the most popular apps; both offer short, interactive lessons that you can complete right on your phone, plus more advanced content, like podcasts, for more proficient speakers. Or, look for a local language meet up and make some new friends while you practice.

9. Get crafty

If you love to work with your hands, summer is the perfect time to experiment with new types of crafts or building projects. Check out Skillshare courses on topics like creating earrings out clay or making paper flowers. Looking to make a little money? Set up an Etsy shop to showcase your wares and earn a few bucks. Or, gather some friends together to craft for a cause. Visit Create to Donate for craft ideas, patterns, and organizations in need.

10. Develop a good habit, or break a bad one

The writer Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Researchers at Duke University found that our habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors each day. So, if we want to create a better life, creating better habits is a great place to start. Maybe you want to get in shape, eat healthier, or keep a daily journal. Or maybe you just want to stop snacking on chips while you study, or hitting your snooze button five times before getting out of bed in the morning. Whatever your goal, focusing on it now is the best way to develop good habits that last a lifetime.

Most successes are achieved through small actions repeated regularly. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits and an expert on how to create new habits, talks about how small changes can have a huge impact over time in a popular YouTube video. Clear says the key to developing better habits is noticing the habit or behavior you want to change, wanting to make the change, doing something different, and liking the results you see. Visit his website for advice and strategies for creating habits that can change your life.

11. Get some rest

Between studying, activities, and social life, high school and college students are notorious for not getting enough sleep. In one study from researchers at University of Michigan, 60 percent of college students report that they were "dragging, tired, or sleepy" at least three days a week. And yet sleep is essential to function well. Not getting adequate sleep or downtime can weaken your immune system and memory, and is associated with lower-GPAs and a higher risk of car accidents. It’s been a stressful year for many people, and students have been under a lot of stress. It’s called summer break for a reason. If you’re able, don’t forget to plan on some sleep and relaxation into your summer. Getting some rest before school starts again might just be the best thing you can do for yourself this summer.

Infographic: 11 Ways to Use Your Summer Wisely

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Written by

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen is College Confidential's Senior Editor and Head of Content. She is a graduate of Kenyon College, where she majored in English and Creative Writing. She also earned a master’s in Psychology from The New School for Social Research in NYC.

Before becoming a full-time writer and editor, Joy coached thousands of prospective and enrolled college students on admissions and academic and career success. She also managed a team of academic and career coaches and consulted with universities on how to create programs that have better outcomes for students.

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