How College Students Can Make the Most of the Summer

How to plan a productive summer as the spring semester comes to a close.

Posted Apr 06, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

KEY POINTS

  • The summer provides an opportunity for college students to accomplish academic and professional goals.
  • Students may want to consider taking a course, an internship, volunteering, or securing letters of recommendation.
  • Graduate school applications are extensive and time-consuming, so it can be helpful to begin the process in the summer.

What a year it has been. Is there good news? Well, yes, in that vaccinations are on the rise in the United States and, where higher education is concerned, there is hope for fall 2021.

What hope, you ask? The hope that most campuses will return to something akin to pre-Covid-19 normality. It likely won’t be the case that we will get there immediately, but there is reason to believe that fall 2021 will be much better than fall 2020 or spring 2021.

As I write this blog post, there is about a month or so left of classes, then final exams, and graduation (and many ceremonies—while smaller—may be more or less face-to-face). As the spring semester of 2021 wanes and summer is ushered in, I am here to encourage college students to plan to make their summer 2021 a useful and productive one. Yes, take a break and even some vacation time, but use the four months before the fall semester begins to consider making some constructive moves for your future.

Here are my (by no means divinely-inspired) suggestions:

1. Consider taking a summer class to work ahead (or to catch up).

While Zoom may have lost some of its charm, I suspect it is here to stay on campus in some fashion. Perhaps you have some time and the inclination to work ahead this summer by taking an online asynchronous class in your major or to finish one of your general education requirements (or—GASP—to take a class out of pure intellectual interest). A class taken this summer may mean a lighter load or even graduating earlier than planned.

2. Seek out a summer internship or schedule one for the fall.

It is hard to argue against getting some real work-related experience by doing an internship. Before you leave campus for the summer, visit the Career Center (or the equivalent at your alma mater) to find out if there are any summer or fall internship opportunities available.

You can take an internship for course credit (see working ahead immediately above), get paid for your time (possibly), or even both (wow!). In any case, internships provide valuable experience and can help you decide what careers do or do not interest you. In any case, they also look great on your resume.

3. Consider studying abroad.

Study abroad is still—for the time being—on hiatus. But you can still explore opportunities for spring 2022 or fall 2022 if you are still in school then. And in any case, Paris, Rome, Florence, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, London, and Dublin will still be there waiting for you.

4. Volunteer!

Maybe you don’t want a formal internship—perhaps some service is more your speed? You can consider volunteering at an animal shelter, a soup kitchen, a social service agency, or the like for some time each week during the summer. Doing good things for other people is a psychologically healthy choice for you and them.

5. Find out if you can do research in a campus lab.

It may be a bit late, but perhaps some faculty members in your institution’s psychology department (or at a college or university in your hometown) could use your help doing research this summer. You may or may not be compensated (see the volunteer suggestions immediately above) but you can learn if you like research and perhaps get a terrific letter of recommendation that can help you when you apply for jobs out of college or if you decide to pursue a graduate degree.

Drop by the psychology or neuroscience department and find out. You may even get your name on a publication!

6. Line up letters of recommendation.

Graduation may be looming over the horizon—perhaps after the next academic year or the one after. It’s always a good idea to “lock in” faculty members who know you very well to write letters of recommendation for graduate school or to agree to serve as references for jobs (and even internships). Asking in advance is a great way to find out if a faculty member is willing to be a referee for you. If not, you know you need to cultivate closer ties with a faculty member or two come the fall.

7. Speaking of graduate school—are you considering applying?

Applying to graduate school is more like a marathon than a race these days. It can take months and months to get everything in line—it’s like a full time job. Summer can be a great time to visit web sites to learn about graduate programs in psychology and their requirements (GPA requirements, tests and tests scores, application deadlines, recommendation letters) or for professional programs (i.e., medical school, law school, an MBA) or some other line of work (e.g., social work).

The work and decisions you make in the summer (e.g., Where do I want to apply? How many applications? What will this cost? Do I want more school?) will save time in the fall when you will be filling out applications.

8. Maybe you want to join the workforce after graduation.

This is a great choice. Use the summer to draft a resume and share it with your campus career center to get a real critique (yes, I’m afraid it’s time to remove the high school jobs from the "Work Experience" list). You might start looking at job listings to get an idea of what’s out there, just as you may want to do some mock interviews (again, seek out your campus career center for help). Imagine approaching your job search with Zen-like calm because you worked ahead while many of your peers don't know where to start...

As the Beach Boys taught us, summer may seem endless—but we all know it isn’t. It will be September before we know it. So, resolve to use your summer wisely and well. Take a break—but work ahead. 

References

Dunn, D. S., & Halonen, J. S. (2020). The Psychology Major's Companion: Everything You Need to Know to Get You Where You Want to Go (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Worth.