After they write their exams and empty out their dorm rooms, university and college students have a months-long stretch of time until another school year.
How can they make the most of their extended break?
With that much time off, those in the workforce often dream of travelling abroad, learning a new language or mastering a skill such as baking, painting or working out daily. Students, on the other hand, may have other priorities on their minds.
“I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It’s all about establishing priorities, figuring out what’s realistic and attainable right now, and then setting some goals for yourself,” Ann Douglas, a parenting expert and author of Parenting Through the Storm, said.
“This is the last time they’ll have any chunk of time off so it’s a last opportunity. They have to be thoughtful with that time,” Alyson Schafer, a parenting expert and author of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, told Global News.
After graduating, students end up as juniors in the workplace, often on contracts or without paid vacation time, she said.
“When September rolls around and you say you had the best summer of your life when you managed to accomplish X, Y and Z, what does that look like to you?” Schafer said.
Here are the experts’ tips on how parents and students can make the most of the four-month break.
Gain work experience
Some students focus solely on academics, leaving their resumés bare. In this case, summers are meant for internships, job placements and real-life work.
“Up until this time for some students, there could be zero job experience. You have to make yourself well-rounded,” Schafer said. She’s the mother of two kids – one is at an interim job placement in university while the other graduates in the summer.
Volunteering is an option too, if it snags students invaluable experience in the workforce.
Others may pick up an extra class during summer school to ease up on the course load once September comes around again.
Replenish the bank account
For some students, managing finances during the school year is incredibly difficult. Summer months are crucial for stockpiling savings to cover expenses from September to April.
“Not every student has the luxury of choice about how to spend their time this summer. Some students will only be able to afford to return to school in the fall if they manage to earn as much money as possible during the summer months,” Douglas said.
The experts encourage students to take up part-time or full-time jobs, even if it’s in retail or at a food court, for example.
“It’s not as awful as it sounds because at that age, all their peers are working at the same jobs so it’s a good opportunity to make new friends,” Schafer said.
If students are in medical school and residencies or chasing after athlete scholarships and getting scouted, the stakes are incredibly high during the school year.
Across the board, students need to earmark time for hitting the reset button and taking a pause.
This doesn’t mean spending the summer playing Call of Duty, but it would include making time for reading books or taking up a passion project.
“It’s tempting to try to squeeze every conceivable experience into a single summer, but that can be a recipe for exhaustion and burnout – and most university students are already running on empty by the time the school year winds down,” Douglas told Global News.
“Kids are incredibly stressed more now than ever and we have to take mental health issues seriously,” Schafer said.
Depending on other priorities, students may use their four-month block of time to travel abroad, go to festivals or volunteer in a different part of the world.
If your finances allow it, students can take a course in a foreign country for a month or volunteer for weeks at a time building houses or helping out at an orphanage.
Set personal goals
Students need to make time for their inner growth, too. They could set goals like training for a marathon, taking an improv class or joining a book club over the summer. These could be priorities they can’t fit into their schedule during the school year.
Summer is a great time to reflect on what you want for yourself, both personally and professionally. Maybe you could set a goal for yourself of being more physically active (something you might be motivated to do if you found yourself slipping into couch potato mode while you were busy hitting the books) or to volunteer at a charity fundraiser for an organization that’s near and dear to your heart,” Douglas said.
“Just realize that the list of things you’d like to accomplish this summer will inevitably exceed the number of hours available. Don’t let that discourage you. Let that motivate you to make the best possible use of your time,” she said.
How can parents help?
Parents need to strike a balance between offering guidance while being hands off. It’s during these university years that students need to test their initiative and autonomy, the experts say.
But parents also need to be forward and set boundaries. If you can’t help your child financially in the upcoming year, let them know.
Ideally, this is a conversation that you had with your kids when they first applied for university.
“You might have said something like, ‘We’re happy to contribute to the cost of your education, but we expect you to earn money, too, by working during the summer months,’” Douglas said.
Talk to your kids without ordering them around, Schafer said. Aim for listening and keeping lines of communication open instead of being controlling.
“The greatest way to have influence is to have a strong relationship so your kids will see you as having wisdom and sage advice. They’ll take your opinion and thoughts into consideration because they trust you,” Schafer said.
Remind your kids that they have a purpose, too.
“Let them now there will be an intersection between all of their gifts and strengths and how they will contribute to society. Parents need to provide that kind of spiritual confidence,” Schafer said.