Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dear Summer . . .

Spending your first summer as a college student following academic pursuits doesn't sound exciting or romantic, does it? If I told you that making strategic choices about how you spend your summer can help propel you forward in your future career, would that sound better?

It's true.  Taking courses, a summer research experience/internship, or study away/abroad are all ways to gain knowledge and/or experience and make yourself more marketable post-graduation.  Each one can serve a different purpose, so I'll sum each of them up.

Taking Classes
If your GPA isn't very strong and you either want to repeat a course or boost your GPA, taking courses may be the right choice for you.  Taking the courses at your institution will replace your first grade with the repeat grade.  If you take courses at another institution, only the credits transfer, not the grades.  This will help by removing the lower grade, but won't boost it by calculating in the repeat one.  Check with your institution to determine whether or not there are stipulations on transfer credits.  I understand if you want to stay on track with your 4-year plan of study, but take it from me . . . most people/employees/graduate schools aren't shocked if you take 4.5 - 5 years to finish undergrad.  Quality is more important in most situations.  So if your GPA is stronger you may want to consider the other two options.

Summer Research/Internship
This will allow you to gain experience in your field.  Summer research programs or internships can either affirm your career choice or let you know the major you've chosen may not be a good fit.  Every major is multi-faceted, so don't be completely dismayed if your first experience isn't an earth-shaking one.  Use it to get a better understanding of your field and don't be disillusioned what about you think the experience should be.  As an undergrad you will rarely find yourself in a position where you are lead on a project that will make or break your employer.  However, you may be doing something that lays the foundation for that work.  Understand where your work fits into the bigger picture and you'll see how you are important.  Research and internships are learning experiences where you can apply your coursework and reinforce understanding.  They are often situations where you will receive guidelines, but not direct instruction -- i.e. room to really problem solve.  They also require self-motivation, the ability to self-pace and manage your time, and make an impression for future letters of recommendation.  Oh, I forgot to mention that you also get paid!

Study Away/Abroad
Study away is going on a domestic trip that doubles as an academic or cultural learning experience.  Study abroad is an international trip for the same purpose.  Depending on the length of the trip, you may or may not take courses.  There are different types of trips; some are academic and others are service-based.  Either way, it's a new place and is always a great experience.  You can leverage this experience when promoting yourself to future employers and graduate programs to highlight your ability to adapt.  Larger institutions have study abroad offices and information sessions that will share criteria, cost, and any possible funding opportunities.  They may be a little harder to identify at smaller schools, but they do exist.

Regardless of the choice you make, think strategically about how you will spend Summer 2014.  Make the most of your college experience.  You'll be glad you did.

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