School is out for college students, but the summers between college semesters have a lot more potential to prepare them for their long-term goals. As they get further into their higher-education journey and get closer to entering the workforce, students should start to look at the months off between semesters as an opportunity to hone skills and build some experience in ways they might not have time to during the semester.
When it comes to getting ready for the workforce, it’s never a one-size-fits-all situation. For some, the ideal situation is a formal internship where they can get their feet wet in their chosen field with practical experience, and for others the extra free time that comes with the summer is a chance to recharge, get their creative juices flowing, and work on a personal project. With a myriad of options, these months of free time might start to feel overwhelming, but with some planning and brainstorming, students are sure to find a valuable summer experience that works for them.
When a student sets out to decide what sort of experience they’re looking to build, they should think about the difference between “hard skills” and “soft skills.” While hard skills are quantifiable skills, like knowing how to use a specific program or having a certification that will come in handy, soft skills are the more subjective things that make a candidate valuable. Things like leadership, problem-solving, and effective communication are soft skills, and there are lots of ways to both develop and demonstrate them.
Students should consider what type of skills someone in their field would want to have. Are they thinking of going into something competitive, where problem-solving will be essential? Or something where they’ll be spending a lot of time talking with many contacts, so communication would be valuable? Coming up with a list of skills they’d like to work on is a great starting point to then think about what sort of summer experience will let them exercise those talents.
For Young Professionals
For many people, internships are the go-to for warm-weather job experience. For most fields, direct, hands-on experience with employers in the industry gives a student a huge boost in the eyes of future employers.
The great thing about internships is that they give students a real look into what it’s like to work in the field they’re looking to go into. Whether they’re going into business, medicine, public relations, politics, or anything else they can name, odds are there’s an internship out there that will have to do with what the student wants to do after college. This is the chance for students to take everything their professors have taught them in classes so far and apply it to real-world situations, so they can see what it’s really like to do the work.
If students think a summer internship is a good option for them, their first resource should always be their college’s career center and academic advisors. These professionals are there to help them determine what opportunities are available, and assess what skills and experiences they should be developing to get ready for the workforce.
For students who are unsure if an internship is right, there are alternatives out there where they can get some applicable experience that’s catered to their major in less-formal settings.
For the Computer-Savvy
Considering a job in computer science or IT? An interesting and fun way to get some experience with coding and other tech-friendly skills are hackathons – these are competition-style events, typically hosted over a day or a weekend, in which participants work together to form a tech solution to a common problem in a short time period, making it a race against the clock to put their heads together and come up with a solution.
These fast, collaborative events are not only a fun way to put skills to the test, they can also be an opportunity for networking in the field. Mingling with peers who share a student’s interest, and potentially working with more experienced people in the field, can mean that student establishes meaningful connections with the people they’ll be working with in the future.
This is an option students can likely complete anywhere – they often take place at universities, but can also be found in major cities across the world. Some have even shifted to a virtual format, so students can take on one of these challenges right from home, giving them a chance to meet people from around the world.
For Creative Types
With more visually driven, creative fields, a portfolio of the work students have created can be just as important to potential employers as a resume. By crafting an impressive portfolio, students can showcase their skills directly, with a tangible catalog of what they’ve created.
Over the summer, students can take the skills learned throughout their classes and put them to use in their own creative ways. Now that university professors have shown them how to do the work, it’s their turn to practice creating those things on their own and develop a personal style with it.
This is good for summer because students can really dedicate as much or as little time to it as they feel fit. Because it’s a less formal process, they set their own timeline, whether they create a full-blown art project that they can enter into contests, a short film they make with their friends, or crafts that they can sell online.
Whether they keep the finished project just for themselves, sell it, or add it to a portfolio, honing their skills can get them ready for a successful career in their field.
Worried about not having the right equipment? Look into the school’s resources to see if they have open studios or film labs accessible to students over the summer, or if there are community resources that can help them get access.
For those who think about their future career as one where they’re surrounded by more trees than cubicles, it’s fitting that the summer-learning experience would keep that theme. For the future environmentalists, botanists, or agriculturists, the summer months are a perfect time to get a look into how food and plants are grown. Most colleges will have a campus garden system, where students can get hands-on experience in greenhouses and gardens.
This can be surprisingly valuable experience – for one, volunteering is a good way to fill in gaps on a resume if a student doesn’t have formal work experience. Showing that they dedicated the time and energy to work on something they care about, even without pay, can demonstrate that they are passionate about the cause and willing to take initiative. Plus, it’s a way for them to get familiar with how the process works, even if they’re just helping out the pros.
Volunteering is a good opportunity for developing soft skills, things like leadership qualities and communication that can make a student an asset to any team. Working together with a team of volunteers gives them a chance to build some interpersonal skills like teamwork and problem-solving that the student can take with them and apply to other opportunities in the future.
When not spending the summer in the same town as the college is in, consider a summer job with a local farm or at a farmers market. There, the student can get a feel for the whole cycle of how food is planted, harvested, and sold, and maybe even learn a thing or two about sustainable agriculture.
However students choose to spend this summer, they should remember that they’re in college to learn, experience new things, and prepare for the future – and those things don’t stop when they leave the classroom. With the resources the school provides and a little creative thinking, students can make sure to get the most out of their college years, even when class isn’t in session.