Generally speaking, freshmen are less likely to be intense about finding something that impacts their post-college future. As they move through their collegiate years, students start thinking more about how everything they do ties into their future goals. Career-based opportunities become more of a consideration, and planning has to start a lot earlier in the year, maybe even before that last bit of snow melts.
The choices they’re making fall into these categories:
Sometimes, it’s all about the Benjamins. It could be that they’re paying their own way, maybe they’re building up some savings to start paying off those college loans, and maybe it’s just for pocket money, but earning money is empowering. It’s also a great resume builder, whether they get a job in their field of study or not. Either way, it shows responsibility and reliability, traits that never go out of style.
2. More study
Studying abroad is a great way to spend the summer if finances permit, and so is just taking some summer classes on campus. This gives them the chance to hone in on one or two subjects, a welcome break from the juggling act of a full course load. Not the cheapest option on the block, but one that brings them a little closer to the finish line, so it may be a savings in the long term.
My (significantly younger) sister, now in her senior year at Oberlin, says most of her friends go the internship route, with interest in this usually kicking into high gear when they’re sophomores. Internships, most of which pay at least a little and cover expenses, offer the chance to do a test run in their field of choice, making that resume addition even more enticing to future employers. This also kicks off what could become a lifetime of useful networking, making connections that will come in handy down the road if the internship itself doesn’t discourage them from working in the field ever again. (It happens, and it’s just as useful.)
Another resume-builder, this one’s usually more expensive than the other choices, but also a great option for students who are trying to figure out their future and contribute to the world at the same time. Some have participation costs, and all require time that could otherwise be spent earning money, but experiences both domestic and international are character-builders as well as career-builders. I have a brother who traveled the world this way, repairing the coral reef in Australia and building fences for migratory animals in Africa. It can also be another networking opportunity, one that might expand their world instead of narrowing it.
This is for those with some extra money, or who are good at living on the cheap. It’s a great time to do it; college students don’t have to negotiate with their bosses for vacation time or worry about how it affects their career momentum, and it keeps the learning process firing on all cylinders.
Sometimes, everybody needs a break. I personally hope that every college student gets at least a few weeks in the summer to chill out and do nothing. They might want to take a step back from thinking about the future and just remember what it’s like to be a kid at home again. Sitting around all summer long probably isn’t the best choice, but getting just a little time to relax with nothing on the agenda might be the best thing for them and for you, as long as they’re doing their own laundry.
As always, economics play a huge role in all of these decisions. Some have the luxury of getting to choose, and others are driven by financial necessity. The good news is that there are options, and plenty of them. If they’re not sure, the career centers on campus are a great place to start, leading to summers they’ll probably never forget.