How to Plan Your Summer: A Comprehensive Guide

Start planning your summer now and reap the benefits later.

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This post will show you how to plan your summer ahead of time as a college student.

The only thing more common on a college campus than someone talking about their semester abroad in Barcelona is someone talking about the internship they just did, or the one they already have set, not just for this summer, but the one after. From the moment summer is over, recruitment season begins, and getting an internship at a big shot company is the new “so what college did you get into?”

It’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed, but while doing an internship is a great opportunity, it’s not the only option you have. First of all, not everyone has the privilege to spend their summer doing unpaid labor. (Thankfully, more and more companies are adopting a paid internship program.)

Even so, it’s easy to feel like you need to get an internship at NASA, but I’m here to tell you, it’s YOUR summer, so I’m going to help you find the best thing for YOU to do. And I’m going to guide you in just how to get there.

How to Decide How to Spend Your Summer: Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you choose what to focus on, you’re going to have to answer these questions to understand where you are in your career and what you would like to get out of this summer.

  • Do you want an internship that could potentially lead to a full-time job
  • Do you want to make money? Do you want to start saving up or need a head start paying for college?
  • Do you want to explore a field of interest? Unsure about what career path? Would you like a hands-on experience in a field of interest?
  • Do you want to follow a passion? Do you have a big dream? Do you want to take a risk?
  • Do you want to gain new qualifications? Are there any skills you want to master?
  • Do you want to give back to your community? Do you want to make a difference?

Rest assured that all the options below will help you in your career, they’ll both teach you valuable lessons and add to your resume. So, it’s important that you know where do you want to be at the end of this summer?

Now that you’ve thought about it, let’s get into the step by step for how to plan your summer with your goals in mind.


When we’re talking about how to plan your summer, most students think about internships. So let’s get to those first.

There are two basic types of internships:

  • An organized program: usually at a large corporation, highly competitive, favor upperclassmen, usually built to find potential full-time hires.
  • The created internship: either small companies or through connections, generally involves more responsibility and more hands-on experience.

As you can tell there are pros to both, and it really depends on your goals for your summer. To land your internship:

  1. Polish your resume: Contact your career counselor to go over your resume and proofread, proofread, proofread.
  2. Location: Figure out where you can work: will you be staying in your college town? Will you go home? How far are you willing to travel?
  3. Research: Find the companies in your field of interest in your region. Write down on a spreadsheet: company name, location, website, any contact information, and the status of your interaction. Take a college admissions approach, and make sure you have reach, targets and safeties, not in terms of quality but in terms of company status.
  4. Apply: Either through their application form or find a contact. Networks can be very insulating so leverage your own, search for the company on LinkedIn and see if any alumni from your university work there. Contact them for an informational interview to learn more about their job. If they agree to do so, don’t ask for a job, they will most likely volunteer information about opportunities at their firm.

Benefits: Contacts in a company, learning opportunity in a field, better understanding of what you want to or don’t want to do, potentially make money.


Having a real job often doesn’t seem as glamorous (although being paid in nuggets would be a step in the right direction), but it can be just as exciting and as important for your career. There are many fields, where experience in retail or management is extremely important. For example, in fashion, working at a store is so essential in understanding customers, clothing, logistics, brand image, etc… It can also be extremely fun, such as working at a camp with your high school friends where you’re getting experience in management or childcare. 

For these jobs, you can follow the same rules as an internship, but you will most likely only need to fill out forms rather than network. 

Benefits: Save up money, understanding of how businesses work, example of responsibility, potential experience in your field of interest.


When you’re thinking about how to plan your summer, don’t discount volunteering! Even if you don’t intend to work in a nonprofit field, this is still a great experience, not only because it lends itself to other career fields such as public policy, healthcare, environmental justice, law but because it’s the most rewarding way you can spend your summer. The best way psychologists have understood a person can increase their happiness, is by dedicating their time to giving back

Again, this will follow the first three steps from how to get an internship, but when it comes to nonprofits and volunteer work, they’ll either have a specific page on how you can get involved, or you can just send an email (smaller NGO’s are more likely to respond and your work will have a bigger impact).

I will stress that keeping it local, and in a position where you have the necessary skills is essential. Avoid short term voluntourism in other countries, organizations best serve those regions when they fund projects managed by local leaders with expertise to work in those communities.

Benefits: Make the world a better place, learn about new perspectives, learn to be resourceful, experience in a field of interest.


How to plan your summer - photo of woman taking an online class

When thinking about how to plan your summer, taking classes is a popular option for many students. There are two types of summer classes:

  • Those that get you ahead in your degree 
  • Those that are in a specialized field of interest

The first type is great way to graduate early and be able to hang out with either your college or high school friends. These can be costly, and are often more intense than a semester class, so a class at a community college that transfers credits can be a great option. 

If you’re looking to learn something different, there are thousands of classes that you can take. Look into specialized schools such as summer journalism programs or at extremely specific courses in the field of robotics. Taking a class in a specialized field will not only expand your network but may even expand your surroundings. Top universities such as Harvard and Stanford offer summer classes that means you can experience a whole new campus. Or even go to a university in another country.

Benefits: Gain a new skill or qualification, advance in your college education, experience a new setting.


It’s recently dawned on me that after college there aren’t three-month long summers. There’s just work, work and more work.

So, if you want to take advantage of your free time to do something you may not be able to do later on, then do a passion project. And trust me there’s always a way to market it in your resume to showcase how you had a constructive summer, it’s like making your own internship.

The options are endless:

  • Write a novel
  • Learn Spanish
  • Create a community garden
  • Start a newspaper in your neighborhood
  • Become a master chef with Selena

Just remember to set yourself a plan that ensures you are held accountable for progress. 

Benefits: Learn to take a risk, being a self-starter, learn something new.

All of these choices are important steps in your career, so you have the freedom to choose what is most useful for you now. It’s easy to feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing, but as long as you’re doing what you’re really excited about, you won’t regret your choice.

What are your plans for the summer?

What would you like to get out of your summer? Did we forget any summer career advancement options? Let us know!

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