As spring continues to march on, it may feel weird to talk about summer. Whether in high school or college, this is the exact moment to start coming up with the ideas and plans of how you want to spend your summer.
Some of you may be questioning why I suggest coming up with something to do this summer other than cruising the beach, sleeping in, and hanging out with friends. Well, it’s rather simple, really. Before I answer the question, I do want to acknowledge that downtime is important and restorative. Students work hard during the school year, and definitely benefit from reenergizing themselves.
Back to the question at hand: why do you need to do anything at all during the summer. It is so you can have a diverse array of experiences that allow you to learn about yourself, stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone, and learn something beyond what is taught in a classroom.
If you are in high school and wondering what you could possibly do this summer there are a lot of options before you. The most obvious of which is having some kind of part-time summer employment. Summer jobs are incredible experiences, allowing young people to gain limited exposure to what having a job is like. It will enhance and develop interpersonal skills and problem solving skills. Navigating the day looks a lot different when having to interact with an irate customer. Oh, and it puts a little money in a student’s pocket, which can come in handy!
Another great option are summer enrichment experiences. These programs come in all shapes and sizes, so there really is something for everyone. It will take some time and energy to research and apply for the programs, and the pay off is worth it. I have supported students in going to music programs (introductory and conservatory), fine-art programs, pre-college programs, academic enrichment programs, and even athletic programs. These experiences can last anywhere from 1 to 8 weeks, and can cost upwards of $10,000. There are usually some financial aid/discounts available for low-income students, so be sure to ask the admission team what financing options they have.
“Internship” has become the catchy term lately, and I have even started to hear this term pop-up in high school circles. So let’s address it briefly. There are internships available for high school students, though I have only ever seen these come up as a result of a student’s parents’ relationships. Meaning a student’s mom or dad knows someone in a particular field, and that person is willing to take the student on as an “intern”. These can be valuable experiences, exposing students to a career they are interested in. I’m just not sure how much the student really gets out of the experience though, in comparison to college students. The main difference between a high school internship and a college internship is the amount the student will be able to do. At least for college interns, they have enough academic training that the company can have them use it. I would just say that high school internships are a very new thing still, and to tread carefully and have low expectations.
When it comes to summer-time for college students there are three options that come to mind. The most popular of which is an internship. At this rate, an internship has become a coveted opportunity for college students because many have figured out early on that it is an excellent conduit for networking and career exploration. There are a couple of things that are important to keep in mind around internships.
First, most internships are intended for “older” students (at least sophomore or older). There are a lot of reasons for this, which could be a blog post in itself, suffice it to say most internship job requirements will focus on older students. This doesn’t mean a first year student should throw in the towel. First year students need to re-frame their goal to “do something”. That’s the expectation. That could be an internship or something else.
Second, securing an internship can be a competitive and rigorous endeavor. As a result, students should think outside the box when it comes to finding internships to apply to. On the one hand, it can be helpful to apply for internships that directly correlate with a particular career (for example, if a student is interested in finance they can apply for finance related internships). On the other hand, students should also evaluate what skill sets would make them a marketable applicant for future internship or job opportunities in their desired field. Then find internships that will nurture the development of those skills. For instance, let’s say a student’s dream career involves a lot of public speaking–certainly they should/could apply for internships in that industry, AND look at other internships that involve a lot of public speaking that may have nothing to do with that industry.
For many, pursuing a research opportunity is a great way to explore an interest AND develop important job skills. This is especially true for students who aspire to pursue more technical-based careers. This could include scientists, researchers, engineers, and research and development roles. Participating in an undergraduate research program teaches students what goes into pursuing a research project; it also exposes students to the technical tools used as part of the project. In the case of STEM fields, this would include research databases, hardware platforms, and software platforms. With humanities and social sciences this would include primary source archives, research databases, statistical software platforms, and other software platforms.
The skills and experiences developed through a research program are transferable to just about any career or industry, even if a student chooses not to pursue something research oriented. Students develop critical thinking and writing skills, learn how to operate on a team, build time management strategies, hone problem solving techniques, and much more.
For many students securing an internship or pursuing a research opportunity may just not be a good fit. There may not be the appropriate opportunity that will help them move closer to their career goals or they may just have bad luck in the application process. Either way, there is still another option available to them: a more traditional summer job. Whether it’s working in a restaurant, at a movie theater, in the trades, or at a summer camp, students can develop critical skills and experiences that are valuable in any career. While any technical skills they learn might not be used elsewhere, most jobs require the development of interpersonal skills. In other words, students will have to learn how to interact and communicate (and at times build relationships) with all kinds of people–just like in any full-time job. Moments will also arise that require students to think critically and solve problems. Summer jobs come with expectations and responsibilities, and learning how to live up to them can be a big challenge. An even bigger challenge is learning how to manage when one fails at living up to those expectations and responsibilities.
Like with any experience, a summer job will be what you make of it. As a result, to get the most out of a summer job a student may have to make their own “luck”. What I mean is that, students should spend time thinking about what experiences and skills would be most beneficial in moving them closer to their dream career. Then, seek them out in the job they have. For instance, if learning how to manage a business budget would be useful–a student can ask their supervisor if they can sit in on a budget meeting. If leadership skills would be helpful to learn, they should ask their supervisor for an informational interview to learn about leadership styles and techniques. It’s an opportunity to get creative!
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