A very smart woman once told my freshman students that the summer after graduation (last summer) was their last free summer. She was right. From this point forward, use each summer to propel your academic and career aspirations forward. Summer is no longer a break. It’s a chance for you to maximize your college experience by participating in research programs, employment, or volunteer activities that will provide more insight into your career choice. Sometimes it confirms you are on the right track. Others, it lets you know what you chose initially isn’t necessarily a good fit.
It may feel like the semester just started, but in the world of internships/research programs/volunteer services, it is prime time to begin looking for summer opportunities. Many applications open in October and November, so it’s important to start looking now. Although the application deadlines aren’t until the spring semester, you will need time to both complete the application and secure your references.
Perhaps you are considering taking a class because it was full, and you want to catch up to your plan of study. To that I say, take the class later. Meaningful experiences outweigh taking an extra semester to graduate. However, if not taking the class prevents you from moving forward and making progress in your major, take the class. Otherwise, let’s start the summer opportunity search.
One of the first places to begin identifying your summer is through your campus office of career services. They will have a database of summer opportunities you can search. If you belong to the student chapter of any professional organizations, check the list serve along with the list serve from academic support programs. It’s also a good idea to ask your major advisor. Also, do not hesitate to ask your instructors, particularly if they conduct research. Upperclassmen are also a great resource. Ask those in your major what summer experiences they had and how those opportunities were secured.
That’s the on-campus stuff. Now it’s time to reach out. There are more than likely graduate programs in your major. Check the university websites for summer research and academic opportunities. You can also use social media to your advantage by (creating or) maximizing your LinkedIn profile and following companies where you’d like to be employed on all platforms. Don’t overlook the people in your immediate and extended social circles. LinkedIn is based on degrees of separation. Let your friends, family and mentors know you are in search of a summer opportunity. Use good old-fashioned word of mouth to get the word out. You never know how knows someone in your field.
If you are service-oriented and decide to volunteer instead of taking the corporate or research route, there are ways to identify volunteer opportunities. Check your local community volunteer website for the needs of local agencies. You would be surprised at the number of ways your skill set can be applicable in volunteer settings. For instance, if you are a computer person, you could help senior citizens set up their tech at a retirement community. Someone who is interested in fashion and styling could work with a women’s resource center to help women transitioning back into the workplace. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and create your own summer research opportunity.
However you choose to spend your summer, just make sure it moves you toward your career aspirations. Only by getting out and doing will you learn what you enjoy, where your skills are best developed, and how to be the college student and working professional/entrepreneur you hope to be.