10 ways students can stay productive over summer break—other than getting an internship

Caroline Hopkins, staff writerCaroline Hopkins, staff writer

For current undergraduate students, the arrival of summer vacation can often feel like a fork in the road with two options: 1) Get an internship somewhere; or 2) Don't get one—and spend three months being unproductive.

But it doesn't have to be that way. For students who missed the window to apply for summer internships, or perhaps aren't ready to spend three months of sunshine in an office, summer can still be a productive time.

Here are 10 projects experts say you can encourage students without internships lined up to pursue this summer.

1. Volunteer

Many colleges offer service-learning trips over summer vacation, but not all students take advantage of them. When promoting these opportunities, highlight the perks beyond giving back, such as forming friendships with new classmates and learning new skills.

2. Take a crash course

Taking an extra course—or two—over summer break could allow students to graduate faster, enhance their transcripts, or explore a topic outside their major that they wouldn't otherwise have time to learn. Online options can be convenient for students traveling home this summer. Summer sessions also provide a solution for students hoping to graduate on time, but may not have room in their schedule during the academic year to retake a failed course or a specific major requirement.

At one school, students are encouraged to take summer courses—and earn their degree in 3 years

3. Apply for scholarships

Applying for scholarships can be a lengthy process and require time to focus on the task at hand. Summer vacation is an excellent time not only to complete scholarship applications, but also to scope out the college web site for scholarship opportunities. Students might find they can save hundreds of dollars after a little online searching.

4. Get the courses you really wanted

For students who may not have gotten into that course they hoped for their fall term, summer vacation is an opportunity to give it another shot. By periodically checking online or with the registrar over break, students can jump on any openings that appear.

Encourage students to email professors to request overrides into the courses they need. Remind your students that even if the web site lists a course as closed, a professor or advisor might be able to squeeze them in—especially if that course will make the difference in a student's graduation time. 

How you can triage bottleneck courses during registration

5. Order textbooks early

Remember that mile-long line that extended outside of your campus bookstore last term? Encourage your students to avoid the wait by ordering textbooks ahead of time. 

Easier said than done when textbooks cost hundreds of dollars. Here's how to reduce the cost

6. Restock school supplies

There's a high chance your students have used up, lost, or abandoned many of the notebooks, pens, and folders they purchased back in September. Suggest that students replenish these necessary supplies so they're prepared for their first day back in September. 

One necessary item students may not be able to afford? An interviewing suit

7. Sort out housing arrangements

Students should take the necessary steps to renew leases, communicate with roommates, and familiarize themselves with your school's housing system over vacation. Is there a lottery for dorm assignments? These can be complicated, and students who review them over summer won't be blindsided in the coming months. 

Students on micro-dorms: "I'm living the dream"

8. Reflect on the past year

It's no secret that most students have a tendency to mentally "check out" after their last final exam in May, vowing to "never look at another econ problem again" or perhaps ritualistically tossing their class notes into a fireplace. Advise your students against doing so.

Instead, encourage students to reflect on their past semester or school year, pinpointing the areas they struggled with and assessing why they struggled. They can then use this insight constructively going forward, to select courses and identify the study tactics that work best. 

How reflection periods improve internships

9. Study abroad

For students with highly technical majors—or for students who choose to double major, studying abroad for a full semester might not be a possibility. Fortunately, many schools offer summer abroad programs. Students can still have the experience of living and studying in another country, but without the added stress of missing important courses back at school.

But advise them to be careful—students are more likely to engage in risky behavior while abroad

10. Take on an undergraduate research project

In some fields—particularly those in STEM—research opportunities can wind up being even more valuable than summer internships. Undergraduate students who work with professors on summer research can often qualify for grants and fellowships to cover associated costs, too.

And for your institutions' summer to-do list? Combat summer melt

 (Borrello, USA Today College, 3/1/17; Harwood, Daily Pennsylvanian, 11/15/16; Ilyas, Daily Illini, 12/1/16; MSU Reporter, 12/1/16).

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