7 Things to Do in the Summer for College Students When Jobs are Scarce

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Are you graduating college or finishing a semester this month and feeling like you’re stuck in limbo because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hiring freezes, canceled internships and stay-at-home orders have thrown a lot of summer 2020 plans out the window. 

But you can still make the most of your summer break to further your education, work experience and skill-building — it’ll just take a little flexibility and creativity.

Here are seven productive things to do in the summer for college kids.

7 Ways to Utilize the Summer Without a Job

Here are some creative ways to make good use of your summer break if a regular job or internship is off the table.

1. Take Free Online Classes

Going to class might not be your first choice for summer break, but this is a smart time to develop valuable career skills.

MOOCs, massive open online courses, let you take classes from real universities — even heavy hitters like MIT and Harvard — online for free.

Here are five important soft skills you can learn through free online courses this summer:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Multicultural literacy
  • Storytelling and communication
  • Personal branding and social media literacy
  • A new language

Pick them up through these free MOOCs.

You can bone up on hard skills through online tutorials, too. These skills will come in handy in any field:

  • How to use a spreadsheet
  • How to use G-Suite apps
  • How to use WordPress
  • How to use social media
  • How to edit video and audio
  • How to edit photos and graphics
  • How to administer first aid
  • How to analyze data

Study up through these free tutorials.

2. Earn Credits for Free

The College Level Examination Program lets you earn college credit in basic subjects like math and history by taking an exam.

CLEP exams cost $89 to take, but you can get fees covered through Modern States’ Freshman Year for Free program. Enroll for free online courses and tutoring through the program, and it covers your CLEP exam fee (for the first 10,000 students).

Test centers live on college campuses and other locations around the country, and you have to show up in person for an exam. You can generally schedule your exam any time the campus is open for classes (including summer semesters).

Test centers will be closed if their host campuses are closed, but keep an eye out for the CLEP coronavirus updates for the possibility of remote testing, and contact your preferred test center for information about availability.

3. Apply for a Project Grant

Use the summer to work on your own creative project! It could make good resume fodder — especially if you win a grant to fund it.

Check out these resources to find grants for artists:

If you need emergency funding because of lost work due to the coronavirus, peruse our lists of emergency grants for artists and financial aid for writers.

Even if you don’t win a grant, completing a project that will impress a prospective employer could pay off big time in the future.

4. Volunteer Virtually

If a lost internship or job opportunity leaves a hole in your summer schedule, consider filling it with volunteer work. The experience looks good on your resume, and volunteering can be just as valuable as job experience for building useful career skills and networking.

The same way companies are shifting to remote work in response to the pandemic, lots of nonprofit organizations are moving volunteer work online, too. With increased social need and a presidential election this year, service, advocacy and political organizations need help all over the country.

Find volunteer opportunities online and in your area through Idealist.

5. Freelance in a Related Field

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Tons of work that might be relevant to your future career could be available online as freelance gigs.

Freelance writing is especially in demand and it provides the opportunity to start working without a degree, experience or particular expertise (though each of these could earn you more money down the line).

Start by looking for freelance blogging jobs, which usually have a lower barrier to entry. Once you get a few published pieces under your belt, try pitching a story to a higher-paying outlet.

Not a writer? Try your hand at being a virtual assistant, graphic designer or one of these more unusual freelance jobs:

  • Virtual recruiter
  • PowerPoint presentation designer
  • Children’s book illustrator
  • Genealogist
  • Greeting card writer

If you graduated this month without work or internship experience, freelancing could be a way to earn money while beefing up your resume before applying for full-time jobs.

“Employers don’t really hire for potential — you’ve got to be able to show how you’ve applied that potential in some way,” says Alison Green at Ask a Manager. “Even with entry-level jobs, you’re going to be up against other entry-level candidates who have some amount of experience.”

6. Find Online Jobs

Were you counting on a summer job in the now-unpredictable service industry to pay rent or save up for next semester’s tuition? Take your job search online.

Search for full-time and part-time work-from-home jobs through The Penny Hoarder’s vetted WFH jobs portal.

Or, put your talents to work toward creative side gigs. Here are some side gigs you can do online while social distancing:

  • Join video game tournaments
  • Work for a political or advocacy campaign
  • Perform music, comedy, magic or anything else online
  • Be a bookkeeper
  • Do online research through Wonder
  • Be a transcriptionist
  • Be an online tutor

Check out these online jobs for college students that pay at least $15 an hour.

7. Apply for College Scholarships

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Another option for covering next semester’s tuition: Apply for scholarships.

Several scholarships require you to submit an essay with your application, so summer break — when you don’t have other schoolwork — is a great time to focus on them.

Search for scholarships from your college, county, municipality or state; from organizations that support people of your race, ethnicity, gender or other demographics; or from organizations that support your field or interests.

You can also peruse our list of 100 wacky scholarships for things you never would have thought of.

Don’t Let Coronavirus Cancel Your Summer

A lot of big things have been canceled because of the COVID-19, and that’s a major bummer. 

But you don’t have to accept the setback to your career preparation. Get creative to make the most of your summer break and keep your education and development moving forward — even if you can’t leave home.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.



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