College summers — Your student’s many options

My daughter, a sophomore, is already considering internships for the coming summer and has formed a long list to apply to. For her, internships make sense. As soon as she arrived at college she focused on a career goal and last summer landed a part-time position in her field.

For students who don’t yet know what they want to do when they graduate, internships can be a way to explore career possibilities. But not every student is ready to pursue this kind of opportunity. Fortunately, there are many profitable and satisfying ways to spend the long vacation. Here’s an overview of the summer landscape.


Summer jobs put money in your student’s bank account and can provide both general and specific skills. Even if unrelated to their future career, employers look favorably upon a solid work history. A 2012 study by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Marketplace found that, when evaluating recent grads for a position, “Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school versus academic credentials including GPA and college major.”

Whether in an office or at an amusement park, through work your student demonstrates reliability and responsibility and begins to build a resume. For many students, earning money over the summer is necessary to pay school expenses, have spending money during the academic year, and/or to fund experiences like a semester abroad.


Many colleges have grants to fund students who accept unpaid summer internships. Encourage your student to find out more and apply.

Internships can be priceless even if interns often (though not always) work for little or no pay. They provide exposure to a company or potential career and allow students to make initial contacts and develop relevant skills.

A wide range of opportunities fall under this category. Larger companies often have well-organized programs where interns rotate through departments to learn different aspects of the business and may also feature seminars about the company or industry. In contrast, smaller companies, nonprofits, and research labs may put students straight into real work situations — they get plenty of hands-on experience but sometimes a bit less support. There are always stories of interns who end up making the coffee and doing odd jobs, so your student should research opportunities carefully.

Internships may be available right on your student’s campus. Science majors can get hired to work in a lab; professors in almost every field who do research may hire (and pay) summer interns. Positions will also be available in the Admission Office and other departments around campus.

Academic programs and summer study abroad

Many students will cringe at the idea of studying over the summer but it can be a good time to take a class or two. Sometimes students have gotten behind on credits, need to retake a failed class, or want to take an especially challenging required course (can you say “Organic Chemistry”?) on its own in order to give it full attention.

If your student would like an educational opportunity that gets her out of the classroom and even the country, summer study abroad (through the college or an independent company) offers exposure to new places and cultures, increased proficiency in a foreign language, and specialized learning. There are art experiences, where students study through universities and museums in other countries, and music programs giving students chances to hear and study with performers abroad. If scholarships aren’t available from the sponsoring organization, your student may be able to apply for grants from her school.


Community service — either near campus, back home, or farther afield — can offer new skills, new friends and a meaningful way to spend the summer. A Fox Business report stated, “Gaining perspective and helping those in need with others who share your interests can also lead to positive network connections.”  The range of possibilities is vast, from environmental action projects to tutoring in disadvantaged school systems. Many programs have participation costs but support students in raising money to cover their expenses.


For many, if not most students, it’s key to set aside time over the summer for rest and relaxation. Family vacations, reading, binge watching favorite shows, connecting with friends, sleeping in whenever possible…all this will help your student get ready to face the many challenges of the school year.

Back to my daughter. Last summer, she had an internship at a small film production company two days a week. She received a lunch stipend and expenses for work-related transportation. Most importantly, she gained foundational skills in and exposure to the industry she’s devoted to working in.  On the side, she babysat to earn some money, spent time with friends, read, and played music. She accomplished a lot and struck a healthy balance.

This year she’s targeting an internship that is more demanding and time consuming but will give her the next level of experience in her chosen field. As a parent, it is exciting to watch her fostering passions and moving towards her post-college life one step at a time. Although she feels able to handle anything, I’m not quite ready to see her worry about rent and car insurance. Before she enters the adult world full-time, these college summers move her closer but still with a little safety net, just in case, meeting her needs and mine.

There are many ways for your student to productively approach summer vacation. Almost any choice will help in the important tasks of building a resume, exploring career choices, learning new skills, and developing a network of contacts.