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College Life | April 15, 2019

3 Ways to Spend Your Summer Productively

After a long and grueling school year, it’s all too easy to let the summer months slide by in a haze of Netflix binges, backyard barbeques and beach vacations. The thing is, summer is a great time to be getting ahead and differentiating yourself from your peers. Of course, it can be difficult to resist the allure of those hit TV shows, grill marks and sandcastles, but when your college career is over and it’s time to enter the job market, you’ll be glad you did.

College and Compensation

The reason summers are so important to use wisely has a lot to do with why you chose to go to college in the first place – it’s all about your future.

While the prospect of student loan debt continues to dissuade some high schoolers from attending a college or university, most students are beginning to see the potential returns from an investment in their continued education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 78 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree had a full-time job in 2015. For those with only a high school diploma, the number falls to 69 percent. The stark reality is that your level of education has a significant impact on your prospects of getting a job.

The connection between your degree (or lack of one) and your compensation paints an even more compelling picture. If you’re assuming that more education will help you lock down better job opportunities, you’re right. The 25 to 34 year olds with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $50,000 per year, or 64 percent more than the $30,500 paid to those with a high school diploma or its equivalent. For professionals in the same age group with a master’s degree, income rises another 20 percent, and the direct relationship between higher levels of education and higher levels of income holds true regardless of race or sex.

Largely owing to the long-term earning benefits of an undergraduate degree, the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college continues to rise. The chart below shows data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, illustrating that almost 70 percent of high school graduates opted to take part in some form of higher education in 2016.

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All this to say, simply attending college is a minimum requirement for many employers. According to sources such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, the college degree is the new high school GED. These claims are supported by data from labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, whose findings illustrate that an increasing number of job postings require a bachelor’s degree whether or not a degree is actually relevant to performing the job. Instead, the requirement merely serves as an easy way to narrow down a field of hundreds of job applicants in an effort to find just one who will excel.

 

 Summer Opportunities

 For students currently attending college, the increasing demand for degrees isn’t particularly good news – instead of standing out, your bachelor’s is becoming the price of admission to even be considered for a position. Fortunately, the following suggestions will help you get ahead and improve your resume over the summer months, and they don’t involve spending thousands more on a post-grad degree. Some might even offer a nice paycheck.

 

1. Get an internship

Interning for a company in your field of interest is a great way to show employers that you’re serious about your career. Some internships are paid, but even if you’re working for free, you’re gaining valuable skills that will differentiate you from your peers holding down a part-time gig at the pool or ice cream shop for three months.

It’s also common for companies to offer full-time positions to their high-performing former interns. The hiring process can be drawn out and expensive, and no matter how impressive a candidate’s resume is, companies are ultimately taking a risk on every new hire.

Interns, on the other hand, are a known commodity. These individuals have demonstrated a certain level of commitment and are already familiar with their previous role and the day-to-day functions of the business. If you’re a hard-working team player who gets along well with the other employees, there’s a good chance you’ll get a position when it becomes available.

 

2. Take summer classes

 A four-year degree takes four years to earn, right? Wrong. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, it takes students an average of 5.7 calendar years to earn a degree. In fact, only 37.5 percent of students at four-year public institutions actually received a degree in four years. Summer classes can help keep you on track or even get you ahead, so you can graduate and start capitalizing on your increased earning potential.

Besides helping you earn college credits required for graduation, summer classes generally have lower enrollment numbers, giving you more one-on-one time with your instructors. As a result, many students opt to take notoriously difficult classes such as organic chemistry over the summer when they have fewer distractions and can focus their attention entirely on the coursework.

 

3. Build a body of work

Especially for creatives, summer is a great time to start building your body of work. Depending on your specific field of study, resumes are likely losing some of their value. Having something on your resume doesn’t guarantee to potential employers that you actually know how to do it – what does is tangible evidence of your skills.

For a photographer, a stunning portfolio that demonstrates your keen eye is far more valuable than a well-formatted resume that fits on one 8.5”x11” page. A writer with hundreds of blog posts demonstrating his or her ability to convey ideas and capture an audience will stand out over another with only a few college papers to show for their writing.

Similarly, a budding software engineer might take time over the summer to work on a side project, regularly adding commits to GitHub so that others can see his or her progress. No matter what form it takes, building a sizable body of work requires time, and summer is perfect for getting in the habit of adding to your portfolio when you don’t have the myriad distractions associated with school.

Earning your degree shows you’re committed to your future, but a degree alone is no longer enough to make you stand out in a sea of applicants. Instead, employers are using it as a baseline to quickly narrow down their search. Have a little fun this summer, but to get the most out of what is often a substantial investment you should use your summers wisely and make time for continued development.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to intern, earn additional credit-hours, or hone your talents on your own – the summer is a great time to develop the skills you need to get ahead. Whether you’re wrapping up your freshman year or you’re a senior graduating in a matter of weeks, look to The SCLA to ensure you’re prepared for what’s next.