Summer break for college students can be a time to catch up with friends from high school, lounge at the pool, and sleep in late. It can also be a time to gain valuable work or academic experience. When you apply for jobs or graduate school later on, they will look to see how you spent your summers. Many applications for internships, research programs, and other college student opportunities occurring in the summer are due in the first few months of the year, if not sooner. Start preparing now and you’ll be on your way to a productive summer.
Here are four ways to start preparing for summer opportunities now:
1. Start saving money
Whether you are staying in your college town or hoping to spend the summer on the other side of the country, start coming up with a financial plan for the summer now. Pay close attention to the benefits of the opportunities to which you apply. Will they pay for your housing, flight to and from the program, or food? If it’s not a job or program that pays you by the hour, will you receive a stipend? Don’t skip over a program just because it’s unpaid. Search for summer funding or stipends through your college’s career advising office or other organizations willing to support interns. Doing an unpaid internship may mean you have to work at a paid job during spring semester to offset the money you miss out on in the summer.
2. Obtain relevant experience
So you’ve found the perfect program to fit your interests, but you feel like you lack enough experience to be competitive. Consider a work study job or local internship if you need to improve your resume for job applications. If you are trying to get into a summer research program, find a research position on campus even if it’s not the exact subject you’re interested in. Volunteering and getting involved in student clubs related to your area of study can also give you more experience. The opportunity you take during the school year may even end up being something you want to stick with for the summer too.
3. Think about potential references
Even if your applications aren’t due until later in the semester, start making a list of possible recommenders now. After making a list, if you notice a lack of contacts in a certain area, start thinking of people you can get to know before the deadline. For example, if you have tons of work experience and references to go with it but can’t think of any professors you know well enough, try to improve your performance with your current professors. Start going to office hours and speaking up in class so your professor actually knows your name and academic skills.
Asking for letters of recommendation at least one month before the deadline will give the writer enough time to meet with you if they’re like to discuss the opportunities, and then compose a strong recommendation. If the application you are filling out just require you to list the names, numbers, etc. of references, it is also polite to contact them in advance to notify them that they may be contacted. If they know to be on the lookout for a call about your academic and/or professional performance, the reference will be able to give a better recommendation because they won’t be caught off guard.
4. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
It is much better to be in a position where you have multiple offers to select from instead of applying for one opportunity and being crushed when you are not accepted. Even if you think your acceptance is a sure thing because you’ve been in the program or had the job before, don’t consider it official until you have the offer in writing. It is also beneficial to apply for opportunities in more than one location. Look for ones in the city of your college, your hometown, and/or a location where you’ve always wanted to get experience such as Washington, D.C. or New York City. Having a backup plan also helps if you are unable to accept your top choice due to factors such as the opportunity not offering you enough financial support or being needed back at home by your family. Regardless of the opportunity you end up accepting, remember to make the most of the experience.