College Students, Make Your Summer Plans NOW!

Summer opportunities abound, but you have to act quickly, before it's too late!

Posted Mar 10, 2017

Spring break is here for many students (and over for some other, and not yet begun for still others). Some students are just heading home for a week of R and R chez Mom and Dad, while others may be heading for the balmy tropics for a last hurrah before graduation. And some will be doing their homework, writing papers, and otherwise play catch up during this annual lull before spring and the end of the semester looms.

Students who are sophomores and juniors are the ones I am most concerned about in this entry. To wit, have you made plans for the summer months? Are you leveraging that time appropriately to get the most out of your college major (especially, perhaps, if you are a psychology major)? Late winter/early spring is the time to make plans for the summer or even next fall.

Here are some suggestions:

Look into summer internships. Many psychology departments and career planning and placement offices maintain lists of available internships. Now is the time to see if any are available for the summer (or, barring that, for the fall semester of 2017). Some internship sites pay students a salary, while others accept students on a volunteer basis (especially if you are receiving course credit as part of the package). Some colleges and universities will provide their summer internship students with a stipend or sometimes discounted or even gratis campus housing. It’s worth asking what your institution’s policies regarding internships are like.

You might do an internship in a community setting, such as a not-for-profit or social service agency. Other placements will be in business settings. Some psychology majors, for example, become interested in human resources work. Placement in healthcare settings, too, is a possibility. But the time to get started looking is right now—late spring or even after classes end is too late.

Summer research experiences. Many colleges and universities have stipends or grants available for students to receive funds to work with faculty members on their research over the summer months. Such experiences are invaluable and, in many ways, more or less obligatory in order to gain admission to competitive graduate programs in psychology or other science fields. An alternative is to ask a favorite professor if he or she has any need to help in the lab this summer—the answer may be “yes,” but funding for your work there may or may not be available. If there is no funding to pay you for your research help, perhaps you can register for course credit—that way you gain experience, probably a good letter of recommendation, maybe get your name on a publication or a presentation or two, and gain college credit in the process (which might reduce your course load in coming academic year).

Honors projects or independent studies. If you are planning for graduate school in psychology or a related field, then doing honors or independent study work is another good way to strengthen your application. Typically, you have to have a high grade point average (GPA) to register for either opportunity and you also need a faculty member to supervise your work (and, of course, you have to have a project in mind that you are serious about doing). If you are interested in pursuing an honors or independent study project, your best bet is to meet with your academic advisor now in order to plan for the next academic year. And, of course, you could get started this summer, too, on whatever project you have in mind.

Summer jobs. A full or part-time summer job can help to pay your bills and living expenses—and you undoubtedly know that now is the time to secure one for the coming months. In the ideal, you should try to get a job that has something to do with your major or can somehow allow you to leverage what skills you’ve developed (or are developing) in your college courses and major (see the APA Guidelines 2.0 for ideas about how psychology skills link up to career plans).

Study abroad. Finally, you should consider a Study Abroad experience, as exposure to another land and way of life can be eye opening and mind expanding. You can do a semester or two semesters away, for example. An increasingly popular option is to do a brief study abroad experience, say, a week or two away, usually as part of a college course or some sort of volunteer experience.

So, most students have many options for the summer and the future that follows it. But planning and finding what’s available is essential, otherwise opportunities will be lost. So, now is the time to get started. Jane S. Halonen and I have these and other suggestions in our book, The Psychology Major's Companion. Good luck!


Dunn, D. S., & Halonen, J. S. (2017). The Psychology Major's Companion: Everything You Need to Know to get Where You Want to Go. New York, NY: Worth/Macmillan Learning.