With the sun shining down hard, and the smell of freshly mowed grass in the air, it can be difficult to get the motivation to do much during the summer other than sit by the pool. But when you're a college student, it's important to use this time to make progress toward your goals.

Rather than wasting time like some of your peers may be doing this summer, why not use this time to your advantage? Here are the five things I'm doing this summer to get ahead – and you can, too.

1. Take summer classes.

Summer classes can be intimidating because the pace is much faster than semester-long classes, but they're worth it! Typically, you can complete a three-credit-hour class in just six weeks. This can put you on a track toward graduating early, or simply help lighten your load in the typical school year. Another benefit of summer classes is that they're usually much smaller in size.This means you'll have better access to your professor, even if you're taking the class online. At the University of Iowa, they offer students up to nine free semester hours of summer credit. This can save you a lot of money, and deals like this are offered at many schools.

2. Get an internship or job related to your career choice.

It’s not too late! You can still get a summer internship by applying online, or asking family and friends if they know of any openings. Having a summer internship during college is crucial to getting a job after college. The skills, relationships, and portfolio that you will build during this time is what employers are looking for. By completing a diverse set of internships in your field, or even one long internship, you'll show employers that you're ready for the working world.

3. Volunteer your time and talents.

Are you into coding? Could you make posters for a nonprofit? There are many events happening during the summer that need volunteers. And no, volunteering isn't always limited to boring or menial tasks like setting up a tent or checking people into a race. Many organizations, both small and large, are looking for people like you to help them out with a variety of tasks. Reach out to a local nonprofit whose cause appeals to you and let them know the skills and hours you're willing to offer them. Not only will this help build your resume and expand your network, but it’s also a feel-good opportunity.

4. Learn a new skill.

If you don’t have many skills, or even if you do, it never hurts to gain a new one! Look for ways to stretch your skills and round out the ones that are already on your resume. Are there any gaps in your skill set? If so, which ones are you least likely to gain through your school course work? For example, I'm interested in graphic design, but don’t have time to take graphic design classes. Luckily, there are many free online tools available that teach design programs, and some offer the option to earn a certificate while I'm at it. Being resourceful and seeking out opportunities like this to stretch and grow will help make you "marketable" when it comes time to secure your first "real" job. When you've taken the time to grow your skills in creative ways, it makes for a great talking point in job interviews because it shows the lengths you're willing to go to better yourself.

5. Network.

This may be the most important task to do yet this summer. People always say it’s “all about who you know,” and it's so true. There are countless stories of people who got a job because a friend of a friend mentioned the opening and their name came to mind. While it may be scary to put yourself out there and talk to a professional working in your chosen field, many of them would love to help you.

One way to network is to talk to your professors. They have a lot of industry-related experience and often know many people in the working world. Another way is to reach out to people on LinkedIn whom you may not personally know. Just by introducing yourself and asking if you may ask them questions about the field and their journey, you can make a great working relationship.

Finally, try reaching out to local businesses that offer the type of employment you'll be seeking upon graduation. Ask them if they would be willing to allow you to job shadow for a day or so; just be sure to let them know that, of course, you would work the job shadow into their schedule.

Networking can take you far beyond what your achievements on paper say about you, and for that reason, it's the activity I would recommend that you put the most time into this summer.

  1. college and career readiness

About The Author

Sarah Fields

Sarah Fields was a School-to-Work intern at Kuder from 2014 to 2015. Her Kuder assessment results and internship experience affirmed her decision to major in marketing with a certificate in event management. She graduated from the University of Iowa in 2018 and is working in the fi ... read more

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