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Six Grad-School Tips for a Productive Summer Break

1. Volunteer
Summer is the perfect time to develop areas of your resume that may be lacking due to your busy schedule during the year. Of course, part-time jobs and internships make for great work-experience, but if you want your time to be more flexible or meaningful consider volunteering. Find a program where you can utilize and develop your unique skills. Coaching a local football camp will help hone your leadership and motivational skills. Language and STEM students will find that their expertise is in high demand for volunteer reading programs. Sociology students can look for volunteer work in community organizations that address local issues. And while some volunteer programs may require some long-term commitment, many opportunities allow people to work and participate as they are able leaving you free to work and play.

2. Set Some Goals
The school year can be intense, and it can be easy to develop bad habits or fall into a hectic work schedule. But during the summer you have the chance to reboot your life. As the semester comes to a close, assess the past year and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Did you pull too many all-nighters? Are you subsisting on a diet of cereal and take-out? Are your notes in a shambles because you never took the time to develop a workable system? Identify areas that need improvement and begin practicing good habits. Even a small goal, like taking a 30-minute walk every day will improve your mood, concentration, and energy levels, and if you establish good habits in the summer, it will be easier to keep them in the fall.

3. Read Widely
If your summer reading activity consists of filling your beach bag with paperback novels and magazines, and then promptly falling asleep under an umbrella, take a moment to reassess. If you’re like most grad students, you probably spend a lot of time reading during the school year and unless you’re studying literature or theater, your reading material probably leans more toward the academic side of things. But even if you need a break from primary sources or technical manuals, don’t waste your summer not reading. Go outside your comfort area and read things that will enhance your understanding of the world.

4. Consider Summer Semester
Of course, you need a break from classes, but summer semester can be the perfect time to earn some extra credits or take a class that you wouldn’t otherwise attempt. And summer courses tend to be smaller, more personal, and more diverse than regular semester offerings. Take the opportunity to learn the basics of German or computer engineering. Explore an area of your field that is outwith your research scope. Or if you want to max out a summer semester – enroll in a short-term study abroad program. The best part of summer courses is that they’re often condensed, which means you can get a semester’s worth of studying done in just a few weeks and still have time for relaxation.

5. Try Creativity
Summer productivity doesn’t have to be academic. Down-time from classes is the ideal time to explore your creativity and innovation. Just like developing new habits, exploring your creativity can have big payoffs once the school year starts. Do you have a small business idea? Put it into motion and you could have a small, but reliable income in a few months time. Hobbies and sports will broaden your social horizons and give you an outlet for stress once the pressures of the semester start to take hold. Explore blogging and social media to find modern ways to share and market your skills. Find something you love or something that sparks your imagination and use the summer to master it.

6. Enjoy Your Summer!
Whatever you do, remember that summer holidays are a time to relax and regroup after the stress of the school year. Spending your summer stressing about productivity, or a lack thereof, is counterproductive. Set reasonable goals and stick to your plan, but don’t forget to leave room for spontaneous hiking adventures, late-night bonfires on the beach, road-trips with friends, and the occasional day spent in a hammock.