Updated on 11.13.14

Smart Moves Students Can Make Over Winter Break

Students giving out presents with Santa hats

Volunteering over winter break is a great way to make a difference in your community – and build your resume, too. Photo: Wonderlane

It’s hard to believe how fast the fall semester has gone by, but winter break is rapidly approaching for many college students. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to take time to enjoy the company of family, unwind after a rough semester, and catch up with friends from home, you can do all that and something productive all at the same time.

In fact, here are 18 productive things you can do over your winter break that can help your finances or improve your job prospects after graduation.

Connect With First-Semester Influences

Think back to anyone you made a connection with during your fall semester that could be an asset in the future, and keep in touch. If you had a great professor, send them a thank-you note or e-mail expressing your appreciation. If you have a LinkedIn profile, ask them to connect so you can keep in touch and, possibly, ask for a recommendation.

Maintain contact with those professors, especially if they’re in your desired field. If they’re willing, they can be a source of professional advice, a possible reference letter, or even a connection for an internship or job opportunity down the road.

And while any friendship you’ve made is a valuable one, take special note of classmates in your intended field who are go-getters and are already landing internships and gaining other beneficial experiences. You never know if they might be in a position to help when you’re applying for internships and jobs down the road.

Do Your ‘Winter Cleaning’

It’s not quite spring, but you could still probably benefit from an end-of-semester clean-up. Clearing clutter will help you stay organized next semester. Studies show that clutter greatly affects your stress level and can even make you less productive.

It could also help you scrape up some extra cash. Selling your unwanted stuff is a great way to make extra money. Bring your clothes, shoes, and accessories to second-hand shop, such as Plato’s Closet, or send them to an online consignment shop like ThredUp. And Gazelle.com offers cash for your used electronics including cell phones, iPhones, iPads, tablets, iPods, and computers. Put your extra cash toward any existing credit card debt or in a savings account.

Update Your Resume

Regardless of where you are in your job search or college track, use this spare time to create or update your resume.

Did you learn a new skill in any of your classes this semester? Consider adding your relevant coursework and updating your grade point average as well. Did you work last semester? Include any work experience and add versatile details. Also add any volunteer work you did, or if you were an active member of any clubs.

Your resume is the key to applying for internships and jobs, so you want to keep it up to date and looking its best.

Analyze Last Semester and Make Adjustments for the Next

Take time to reflect on last semester as a whole – your academic life, your social life, health, finances, job, and so on. What worked for you? What didn’t?

Make a goal to eliminate any bad habits. While ordering pizza every night may have been delicious and gratifying in the moment, maybe it didn’t help your health too much, or your wallet. Turning off the alarm for your 9 a.m. class seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe now, after seeing your grade and realizing that you didn’t get anything out of the class, you recognize it was a mistake. Next semester, resolve to get out of bed — or, if you know yourself and it’s not going to happen, at least schedule later classes.

Evaluate Your Finances

Another part of analyzing your last semester and making positive changes is evaluating your finances. If you weren’t keeping track of your money, look back at your credit card statements and bank statements and give a rough estimate of what you were spending money on.

If you’re shocked at how much you were spending on fast food, restaurants, coffee runs, going out with friends, and impulse purchases, opt to make changes next semester.

Once you see what you’re spending money on, make a list of ways to cut those costs next semester. If you spent way too much on fast food, consider your options to cut that cost. If you live in a dorm, can you take better advantage of a meal plan? Stock up on foods that you don’t need a stove or oven to prepare, such as microwavable items (frozen dinners, macaroni and cheese, rice, oatmeal, and soup) and non-cook items such as granola bars, trail mix, nuts, bagged salad and dressings, bread for sandwiches, peanut butter, and fruit. If you’re living off campus, find simple meals you can make yourself.

How much student loan debt did you tack on last semester? Could you have done something differently to reduce that debt? Consider taking on a part-time job to cut your loan debt, applying for scholarships, grants, and federal aid, and making interest payments on your loan during the semester.

Redo Your Budget

Now that you’ve evaluated your finances, you can sit down and redo your budget for next semester.

Find a Short-Term Internship

Put your time off to good use with a short-term internship. Inquire about internship opportunities during break at your career center and by searching for internships the same way you would during the semester.

If you aren’t seeing anything available, try and make your own internship opportunity. Spruce up your resume, research nearby companies you’d like to work with, and send them a standout e-mail detailing what you’re looking for and what you can offer them. Explain why you want to intern at that specific company during your break and why you’d be a good fit.

If neither of the above works, get a head start on your spring semester or summer internship search. Start researching companies and keeping track of internship opportunities.

Volunteer

The holiday season is all about helping those less fortunate, so it’s a great time to volunteer. Besides giving back to your community, making a difference in people’s lives, and forming friendships with fellow volunteers, it’s a great way to build your resume and to gain experience for scholarship applications.

There are plenty of traditional volunteer opportunities available over winter break, from preparing or serving food at a soup kitchen to building houses with Habitat for Humanity. However, you might also consider doing something that could add specific, valuable experience to your resume.

For example, many not-for-profit organizations would love someone to help them with public relations, events, or social media. Are you majoring in business? There are likely opportunities to help out with accounting and marketing. If you’re going into health care, you’ll find plenty of ways to help out at local hospitals.

Whatever your major and intended career, you can find a volunteer opportunity to both help people and strengthen your resume. Search for volunteer opportunities at hospitals, schools, community centers, and at specific organizations and groups. Also search on Volunteermatch.org to sort roles by your skills and preferences.

Shadow an Employee in Your Desired Field

If you can’t intern at a company, find out if you can shadow an employee for a period of time. Shadowing an employee is a nice way to get a glimpse into the career – what a typical day entails, what’s required of employees, and what the atmosphere is like.

If you are certain of what you want to do, this is a fantastic opportunity to see what skills you could work on now to improve your job search. You can learn specific computer programs or other skills you see in use, and figure out which personal attributes are needed for the job.

On the other hand, if you’re still not sure what career path is right for you, shadowing workers in a few different industries could be your chance to see what various jobs are like and help you make a better decision.

Apply for a Seasonal, Part-Time Job

Plenty of businesses are looking for seasonal help during the holidays. This is perfect if you’re going home for break and can only commit to a short-term job opportunity. Check area retailers for short-term job opportunities or search for seasonal jobs at Snagajob.com, and earn some extra money to help pay for next semester’s expenses.

Earn College Credits

Knock out a class over break with an accelerated course. Many colleges, possibly even yours, offer courses over winter break; some may even be online. These courses could be a heavy load since they need to cram in an entire semester’s worth of material in just a few weeks. But it could free up your schedule to take on an internship later in your college career, or even put you on track to graduate a semester early.

Lone Star College-Montgomery offers 26 three- or four-week classes, and University of Massachusetts Lowell offers “Winter Intersession Courses.” Western Oklahoma State College recently attracted more than 5,668 students to their winter break 10-day courses, according to Chronicle.com.

Make a Portfolio

While it’s totally fine to spend some of your break on Facebook and Twitter, why not put some of that tech time to a more productive use? Create an online portfolio showcasing your work.

This is highly encouraged for writers, broadcast journalists, graphic designers, those in the fashion industry, photographers, make-up artists, and any other profession where photos and tangible work are part of the interview process.

Even if you have a less visually driven major, you can still put your resume online. Add school projects as you complete them, letters of recommendation, and whatever else you think could help you land a job.

Learn a New Skill

Take time to learn something new. As we mentioned in our article on the wonders of free or cheap online learning, there are hundreds of things to learn online, and just as many places to do it. Learn something that will beef up your resume, such as a specific computer software or programming language.

Network

You probably have heard that saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And while the underestimation of education might not be great motivation, there is some truth that many opportunities do come from personal connections and networking.

If you’re home for the holidays, reach out to family, friends, and neighbors to put you in touch with anyone they know in your field.

Apply for Scholarships

Use your extra time to work on those scholarship applications. Find scholarships offered by your college, by searching online, and by looking into organizations and groups you’re affiliated with.

Mark Your Spring Semester Calendar

Whip out that calendar (or in many cases, that calendar app), and mark down all of your important dates for next semester. If you’ve got your syllabi, mark down all the dates you need to know: exams, mid-term, presentations, due dates for projects, and whatever else needs to be on there.

Don’t forget about scholarship application deadlines, internship application deadlines, job and internship fairs, when tuition is due, financial aid deadlines, and anything else you need to know.

Study Abroad

Sure, you only have a few weeks, but that’s all you need to have an incredible experience in another country. Study abroad isn’t only for a year, semester, or summer – it can also be done over your winter break. Explore programs and courses you can take over your break.

You’d be getting the best of both worlds: Embracing a new place and culture while learning and possibly earning credits, without having to sacrifice a semester on campus, missing other classes, or spending as much as you would on a longer program.

Join a Professional Organization

Familiarize yourself with an applicable professional organization in your field. As a student, you can possibly join for free or at a discounted rate.

Depending on the organization, membership may grant you access to a job board, entry to industry events and networking events, articles and videos on news-worthy topics in the industry, and even content or courses on relevant skills and programs.

Search for groups based on your career interests. For example, if you’re in business or marketing, look into joining the American Marketing Association. If you’re in culinary school pursuing a career as a chef, consider joining the American Culinary Federation.

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