Make Winter Break a “Get Ahead” Time for Your College Student
Winter Break is almost here. You’ll have a taste of having your student home from college over Thanksgiving Break, but that is just an
appetizer. The full course is coming over Winter Break, which might be as long as a month or more.
Thinking ahead to Winter Break, and doing some planning, means you and your student can work together to make it not only a pleasant, but a productive break as well. Here are a few suggestions for ways that your student can use at least a portion of Winter Break to do more than just catch up on sleep and friends (but be sure to leave plenty of time for that as well). Of course, he can’t do everything on this list, but help your student decide what will give him the most benefit.
- Take a Winter Session class. Many colleges offer short-term classes over break. Your student may return to campus to take a class, may take a class at a local college or university, or might take a class online without ever needing to leave home. An extra class can give your student a chance to try a new subject, make up for some missing credits, or get a head start with a few additional credits.
- Make sure that everyone agrees on any important “house rules” or expectations for the break. Talking about these up front will mean less tension and fewer hours spent worrying about getting along.
- Help your student make a concrete plan to accomplish something over break. This may be a grand plan to accomplish big things, or just a plan to get a few small things done, but having some goals – even for a few weeks – will give some structure and purpose to the time. Having too much downtime can get boring and even depressing for some students.
- Use some time to take care of college business. Complete the FAFSA for next year’s financial aid. Confirm next semester’s schedule and contact the Advising Office if changes need to be made. Confirm or explore potential internships. Clear any outstanding issues with financial aid. Your student may not need to be on campus to get some of these potential issues cleared up before the semester begins.
- Use time for reflection and evaluation. Your student should be sure to check his final grades for fall semester. Were they what he expected? Could they have been better? He can use this time to evaluate what he might have done differently. Suggest that he make a list of things he’d like to change next semester, and things he wants to be sure to continue doing. Making sure to build on his first-semester experiences will give him insight for future success.
Spend some time conducting informational interviews. If your student has an idea of a career that he’d like to pursue, or even just a general field he’d like to enter, informational interviews can give him a lot of ideas to consider. Encourage your student to contact a few people in the field and ask for a few minutes of their time to interview them about their jobs. This is a chance to ask why they like what they do, what their career path looked like, what classes they think are essential, and what advice they might give someone entering the field. Many professionals are happy to share what they know with someone interested in their career. This may help your student affirm his direction or decide to change his focus to a new area.
- Participate in some kind of field experience. Getting out into the professional world is always helpful, and sometimes inspiring, for students. Your student might ask to shadow someone for a few days, ask to assist or intern somewhere, even just volunteer. Anything he does to get involved in the community and/or professional world will give him experience, new information, and potential resume material.
- Focus some time on work. Your student may be lucky enough to be able to return to a former job to earn some money over break. If not, this is a great time to begin to make connections for possible summer jobs. Your student can think about where he’d like to work and ask whether he can apply now for summer. He’ll have a head start on those who begin looking for summer employment in May.
- Spend some time focusing on career goals – even if they seem a long way off right now. Your student can use some structured time to update his resume and have someone look at it, to work on a cover letter template, to establish or update his LinkedIn profile, to clean up his social media accounts, or to network with individuals who may be able to help him when he begins looking for a job. It’s never too early to lay the foundation for a successful job hunt.
- Create a budget for the new year. Now that your student has a more realistic sense of the financial needs of being at college, this is a good time to get control of his finances by creating a budget. Help him estimate his income and/or how much he expects to draw from his savings each month, help him estimate his expenses for necessities and then for wants. Let him work to make sure his finances are in balance. If your student is approaching graduation, this is also a good time for him to begin to make sure he understands areas such as health care options, retirement savings, etc. so he will be ready to evaluate the benefits that go along with job offers. Talk to your student about his financial literacy.
- Just get out of the house and help someone somewhere. Even donating just a few hours a week can make a difference for someone – and help your student feel good about himself.
- Go back to school. Volunteer to visit the local high school or even middle school to share college stories. Reach out to a Boy or Girl Scout troop or church youth group. Share wisdom about what students should do now to be prepared for college in the future.
- Get a head start on next semester’s work.Order textbooks now so they will be on hand at the beginning of the semester. Begin reading the first chapters to get a head start. Do some outside reading about next semester’s subjects to have some background. Anything done now won’t need to be done during the semester when things are busy.
- Review expectations and plan ahead. Winter Break is a good time for students and parents to spend some time reviewing how things went last semester – for everyone. Were expectations in the areas of academics, financial spending and social behavior realistic? Should they be modified? What about communication? Take stock now and make sure everyone is on the same page.
It is important to remember that Winter Break is just that – a Break. Your student works hard at school and needs some down time. However, making a plan and setting some goals to accomplish something over Break can mean that your student will feel prepared and in control when he returns to school.