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5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Summer

Someone reading by the water.

It's Memorial Day- the "unofficial" start to summer! When you have the luxury of “having the summer off”, what do you do- bask in the sun, work on your career, or something in between?

Whether it’s by choice (you’re taking time off after earning your degree) or not (you were laid off or you just completed a contract project), there are countless opportunities to use your time for personal and professional pursuits that are productive yet don’t compromise all your fun time. Even if you don't have the summer off, you can still find ways to give your career a boost!

There are several different types of activities you can engage in, from the more structured to the more fluid. Read through the categories listed below to familiarize yourself with the types and start to envision which you might want to engage in during the summer months. Keep in mind the amount of time you are willing to devote to your exploration and how fluid of a calendar you’d like to keep for the summer months. Note that some activities will be more time-intensive and/or will require a more rigid schedule than others.


This one is probably pretty common to most Idealist Careers readers, and you may have already been engaging in this type of activity. Maybe you first got involved in volunteering to show support for a cause that is meaningful to you or you currently volunteer to support neighborhood initiatives. In any case, volunteering is a great way to explore a new career.

When you’re being intentional about learning and exploring over the summer, be sure to select volunteer projects that touch upon your career areas of interest and rely on skills you might need in those types of jobs. If you’re having trouble deciding, try thinking of one cause that has really touched you that you might want to learn more about. After identifying a few organizations that serve that cause, review their “About Us” and “Our Team” pages to get a better idea of what they do and how they do it. Take a look at their volunteer opportunities and see what their needs are and how your skills might fit.


Similar to volunteering, an internship will give you hands-on experience in a cause area and career field. Most internships will have a set period of involvements (ex: 6 weeks, 3 months) with an actual end date, whereas you might have the opportunity to volunteer indefinitely if there is still work to be done at the organization (and most likely, there will be!). Remember that many internships are sometimes reserved for current students, but there are several organizations who accept recent (and even not-so-recent) graduates into their programs. When deciding whether to intern, find out if you will need to be eligible to receive college credit to participate. If the organization offers both volunteer and internship programs, review each and see which fits your needs better and for which you qualify.

Also note that Internships usually involve an application process. Be sure to keep application requirements and deadlines in mind if you are selecting this option. It is likely that you might need more lead time to get your application in order and continue through the selection process.

Go entrepreneurial (or take on a pro bono project)

The “side hustle” has become a popular buzz phrase in recent years. If you have the summer off, it can be a great time try out your entrepreneurial skills. You don’t have to get a full-fledged business off the ground, but think about the type of work you like to do and how your skills can fulfill the needs of your community. You may want to consider hiring yourself out as a freelance graphic designer, coder, blog writer, or even closet organizer!

Another way to test your entrepreneurial skills (and explore a new career at the same time) is to take on a pro bono project. Select some organizations in your cause area that you would like to work with and find out what their needs are. You may find an Idealist listing for a pro bono project at the organization, or you can pitch your own project idea! If you’re still having trouble finding the right opportunity for you, review listings on a site that makes matches between organization needs and individuals offering pro bono services, such as Catchafire or Taproot.

Summer learning

Summer is a great time to enroll in a course or workshop. You can select a specific, intensive program (such as one that results in a certification), enroll in an adult learning summer camp, or craft your own “program” by identifying local classes and workshops in your area based on the topic of interest to you. Remember that when you’re exploring new careers and developing new skills, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. There are many free or low-cost options that you can find locally (such as your library) and online (check out Skillshare, Lynda, Udemy, and Coursera).

While you may tempted to immerse yourself fully in your studies and savor all the new things you learn, don’t overlook or avoid your classmates. Remember that being in a classroom setting is a great opportunity to make contacts (simply call them “friends” if you’re networking-phobic). Get to know your peers, their strengths, and their stories. Share your own with them as well. Add some classmates to your “informational interview” list (see below for description).

Informational interviewing

This isn’t at the end of the activities list because we thought you would find it the most boring. While the term itself may sound staid, you’ll probably find that the activity is anything but... especially if you think of it in terms of listening to someone tell their unique story. It can be a great way to learn about careers and the skills necessary to embark on them. We’ve written about this topic before and you might gain some additional inspiration from Megan Gebhart, author of 52 Cups of Coffee, who devoted a whole year to have coffee with a new person each week with the goal of learning lessons about life and careers.

Each of these activities will require some additional legwork should you pursue them: researching organizations and possible (volunteer, internship, or pro bono) opportunities, reviewing course schedules and workshop descriptions, outlining your freelance “pitch” to potential clients, identifying people for informational interviews.

Reflect on your experiences and fine-tune as you go along

Whichever activities you’ve selected, be sure to take a moment to reflect on what you’re learning and how you can apply it in the world of work. What surprised you about your exploration? What strengths have unexpectedly come to the forefront? How have you connected with your peers? What resume-worthy projects have you been working on?

Also take inventory of any setbacks or areas that could still use some work. Which activities were difficult to stick to, and why do you think that is? What activities can you add to your calendar to supplement any deficiencies? What else would you like to learn, and which of those activities can you realistically take on? If you’ve selected any structured activities that are coming to a close, are there any new activities you’d like to take on for the remainder of the summer?

With a little thought and scheduling, you can use your summer strategically for exploration, learning, and discovery, as well as some sun and sand!


By Victoria Crispo

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