Summer, the most anxiously awaited season amongst students, is known for its nearly three months of relaxation and freedom. It’s so easy to let yourself go and do nothing but watch Netflix during the whole break. But it is also a great time to be productive at your own pace.
Though it might seem like more work piled on your shoulders, there’s a variety of summer programs and employment opportunities related to your interests that you can—and should—take part in! More importantly, you should start thinking about them now.
Okay, but why?
Using summer programs or jobs to explore a certain field is the perfect way to see if it would be a good fit for you as a major and/or future career. You may find that you actually hate the subject you previously thought you would study in college—or love it even more. It’s a perfect way to understand what you like or don’t like. Did you enjoy working in a team? Did you like doing research? Does this subject come easy but is still interesting? Internships will help you understand what kind of working conditions you prefer to help find your perfect match. They can also save you money in the long run, because it’s better to learn you hate chemistry now than after majoring in it, changing your mind, and having to spend an extra year (or more) in college making up credits!
There are a plethora of summer programs out there that can be easily missed, especially when your heart is set on applying to the ones you find right away. You should start searching for programs as early as . . . well . . . now! There are many internships and summer programs out there, ranging from middle school to college.
If you’re a high school freshman this year, then you are at the prime time to start searching for next summer (and the summers after), particularly if those programs accept only students in a narrow grade or age group. And if you’re not seeing a plethora of summer options that interest you, do not be discouraged, because it’s about quality over quantity!
Summer may be ending right now, but there are summer programs that will open up their applications in the fall and have deadlines in the winter, so it is important to catch those before they become unavailable! They may ask for a teacher and/or counselor recommendation as well, which usually take several weeks to get, so keep that in mind.
If there is a company or college that you’re in love with and want to work or study at in the future, then chances are they might have internship opportunities or summer programs for you! For example, MIT has several (free!) summer programs, and places such as Google and NASA have their own internships as well. They are super competitive, so if you’re interested, you should investigate them ASAP. These programs (and ones like them) will not only look good to that college as a prospective student or company as a potential employee, but you will gain quality knowledge in a field that wouldn’t be taught at a high school!
But do not just limit your search to the Internet; your guidance counselor and teachers may know of opportunities, whether they heard of them from their students or had been a part of a few themselves. Of course, if you’re interested in a camp or internship that is focused on science, don’t ask your English teacher and vice versa. Finally, make sure you have a few programs and internships in mind to apply to have a greater chance of getting accepted to one. Speaking of acceptance . . .
Hopefully, at least one of the summer programs you apply to will offer you a place to join them. But what happens if none of them accept you, or if you were unable to attend for some other reason? Luckily, there are many other ways to explore your interests and spend your summer free time.
Why not take a class in something you love—on your own? There are plenty of sites where you can take free courses online. Two of the more well-known sites are edX and Khan Academy, but many colleges, universities, and other educational organizations produce classes or course videos available online for free. The courses can be from introductory/preparatory classes to a certain class or something random such as the Science of Happiness. They’re great if you’re struggling in a particular class or you simply have an interest in something you wouldn’t pick up normally.
Getting rejected from a summer camp or academic program also gives you time to get a part-time job, such as in a restaurant, lawn care company, or retail store. That’s not a bad thing! There are few downsides to getting a job (except maybe terrible coworkers!), and you get to earn money, gain experience, and have the ability to put it on a future résumé. Don’t forgot that many positions will ask you to at least have some work experience, so it’s better to get one now before you truly dive into the real world. Just don’t forget that it’s okay to get a low-paying job; you have to start somewhere.
Volunteering can be great way to get involved as well. If you’re interested in nursing and other medical careers, then volunteering at the nearest hospital, if you can, would be a great way to see the workplace on a typical day. Job shadowing is also another great option if you would like to follow one specific person through their day.
While it is important to demonstrate dedication and interest in a potential career, it is also important to relax during the break and not overextend yourself. Working too hard for too long can cause a mental meltdown! You need time to relax and recharge for the year ahead. Just remember: doing something productive during your summer vacation doesn’t have to be a chore as long as you enjoy yourself!