“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Most online students are downright busy people. But, summer break offers the chance to take care of the important “behind the scenes” work of being a successful student. Summer is the time to create a new beginning so that you can return to your studies with fresh eyes.
If you’re wondering how to make the most of your summer break – whether you have three months or just a couple weeks – consider some of these suggestions.
1. Take a real break. Seriously. Few students are able to perform at 100% productivity for the four years it takes to earn an online degree. Smart students know how to take care of themselves and return to their studies refreshed. (Even professors get summer breaks and a sabbatical every now and then). Take school off of your mind and treat yourself by watching your favorite shows, getting outside, spending time with loved ones, and reading just-for-fun books. You’ll be a better online student and return to school with a renewed understanding of why you’re there in the first place.
2. Explore your passions. Whether you’re a computer geek, a guitar player, or a wanna-be geologist, spend time doing what you love. You may be able to find a summer program focusing on your passion, work as a research assistant to a professor, volunteer, or attend a conference. You might also consider taking a no-pressure Massively Open Online Class (MOOC). With no grades or “permanent record” – you’ll be free to experiment and take risks in your work.
3. Get credit for taking an online class. Some online colleges, especially those tailored to non-traditional students, will give you credit for completing an online class and demonstrating what you’ve learned. This can be a low-key way to complete a course at your leisure (and for free) while still fulfilling graduation requirements.
4. Travel for fun. Travel can introduce you to new ideas, people, and perspectives. A simple road trip or international adventure may end up inspiring you to take your education or your career in a new direction. At the very least, you should be able to relax and return to class refreshed.
5. Travel for credit. Many schools offer college credit for travel abroad programs. You may be able to fulfil graduation requirements by discussing literature in the English countryside or exploring the streets of Cuba. Check with your school to see what they offer. You may also be able to get "life experience" credit for participating in a travel program that isn’t affiliated with your school. Options like Semester at Sea bring students from multiple schools together to learn and explore.
6. Make sure you have next year’s financial aid in order. Don’t forget to take care of all financial aid requirements by your state and school deadlines. Forgetting about deadlines for scholarships, loans, and grants, can mean big trouble later.
7. Get next semester’s textbooks for cheap. If you wait until the last minute to buy your textbooks, you may be stuck ordering a $100 paperback from the college bookstore. Scout out the requirements ahead of time (even email the professor if you have to). Then, save hundreds by purchasing your books on the cheap.
8. Work on your resume. As you continue your studies, make sure that you keep adding to your resume. Managing a professional social media account such as LinkedIn can be a helpful way to store information. Even if you don’t plan on changing jobs anytime soon, you’ll want to remember what you’ve done and who you’ve worked with. Make sure to ask for LinkedIn and written recommendations from professors that you have worked alongside.
9. Create a portfolio. Building a portfolio of your work can also be a good way to prepare for graduation. While it can be tempting to burn a semester worth of assignments in a farewell bonfire, don’t be so hasty. Think about what you might be able to save to help with graduate school applications or show to future employers.
10…Or keep working. Self-care is an important part of being balanced and successful as a student. But, sometimes, you just need to forge ahead. If you must take classes through the summer, try to set up a lighter schedule. Consider taking a complete break during scheduled off-weeks or planning an intentionally lighter load either now or in the fall. Find ways to rejuvenate and prepare for your professional future.