No Internship? Here are 5 High-Impact Ways to Spend Your Summer

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Classroom setting image with the text "The answer is....NOT summer classes"

If you haven’t already, check out my last post about what a successful summer looks like. Previously I asked you to come up with 5 ideas for summer opportunities – now I’ll tell you my 5 favorite alternatives if you don’t have an internship.

Before we get into my suggestions for summer activities, I want to address the increasingly popular choice of taking summer classes at your university.

With the rising difficulty of enrolling in classes during the school year, I've noticed a lot of students tend to settle for summer classes to catch up.

Unless you have a really good reason for taking summer classes, I believe they are a poor use of your summer because they perform poorly in all 4 of the summer experience criteria.

  1. Fun: Most students use summer coursework to complete prerequisite classes, which are usually not fun. Also, sitting in a classroom for your only 3 months off from school seems like a dull way to spend your summer.
  2. Personal Learning: As I mentioned earlier, it's important to learn in non-academic settings. Even if you take a class that teaches you a lot, you probably could've done it during the school year. You also miss out on the opportunity to learn more about yourself, which happens when you try new things.
  3. Professional Investment: Remember that formula? Your Dream Job = Network + Resume + Interview Performance. I don't think summer classes are a great professional investment because they don’t impress professionals in conversation or stand out on your resume. Everybody takes classes – professionals and recruiters want to know why you’re better than the rest.
  4. Money: Summer classes can be quite pricey.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a look at my 5 favorite ideas to maximize your experience this summer.

Idea # 1: Online classes

Surprise! I know I just said university classes usually aren't a good idea, but online classes can be an excellent option.

There are some incredible online classes to pick up new skills that are not covered by university classes. These classes tend to be more professional/skills oriented, and range from a time commitment of a few hours per week to 20 hours per week of intensive immersion.

The professional focus of online classes makes them a lot more interesting and more of a value-add than university classes. For example, instead of taking a summer university course on statistics fundamentals, I recommend an online course on data analytics that teaches you how to use the same analysis tools used by industry professionals. Choose a class that excites you and fits your budget. This is the perfect opportunity to finally learn how to code, design a website, business fundamentals, social media marketing, or whatever else you are interested in exploring.

Here are some of my favorite platforms for online classes: Udacity, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning. The best courses will require you to build a portfolio of work samples to showcase your newly learned skills.

It's impressive to show prospective employers these work samples – especially when they're looking to hire people with those same skills.

If you sign up for an online class, make sure to put in work each week and finish on time or ahead of schedule. Don’t slack off!

Idea #2: Start your own business or side project

This is also a great time to showcase your entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a business or working on a side project shows initiative and commitment – two traits employers’ love.

If you have a business idea you've always wanted to try, start now! You will probably not have a more convenient time to try something risky. Your business doesn’t have to be technology-related; just choose an idea that you’re willing to dedicate time towards.

If starting a business doesn't sound interesting, try working on a side project. Side projects will push you to develop and showcase skills that are marketable to future employers. Some examples of side projects include: building a personal website or app, organizing a community event, analyzing data for a local startup or nonprofit, making a short movie or video, etc. Think about what you would pursue if you didn’t have to spend time on school……then go out and do it.

Idea #3: Working for a local business

Working a traditional retail job as a barista, sales associate, or cashier can be a great option for younger students (freshmen & sophomores) looking to start their professional career. While they may not be the most exciting, retail jobs will teach you about communication, client-interaction, teamwork, and many other important interpersonal skills. These jobs also pay decently well, and tend to have flexible hours so you can pursue other things during the summer.

Note: In general, I believe a strong paid or unpaid internship is a better opportunity than a retail job. This is because strong internships allow you to build crucial skills needed for competitive jobs, develop a network of talented professionals, and are usually more interesting. Retail is a good option if you do not currently have any internship offers.

For a more entrepreneurial and richer overall experience, try selling consulting services to local businesses. This can be done if you have a skillset (or a strong interest in developing one) that is valuable to other businesses. These skills are things like: data analytics, social media marketing, strategic planning, software engineering, branding, etc.

Ask yourself the following:

What could I do to improve the operations of a local mom & pop café?

Successful consulting engagements speak volumes about your particular skillset and ability to hustle. This idea pairs well with summer classes – learn a skillset while applying it in the real world for tangible experience and compensation!

Idea #4: Explore the world and develop an international perspective

This idea leans more toward maximizing fun and personal learning.

Traveling has greatly influenced my perspective on life, careers, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the U.S. If you’ve never left the country and have the financial means to do so, I strongly recommend spending some time abroad.

While you’re there, try immersing yourself into the local culture. This will help you build perspective and return home with many memorable experiences. You can also try to find last minute study abroad programs or humanitarian causes in need of volunteers.

If your career interests lie in foreign policy, foreign aid, international business, or anything related to the outside world, traveling can be directly relevant to your future interviews and internships. Even if your career interests don’t overlap with other cultures, a significant traveling experience is a great topic to break the ice when networking with professionals.

One of my interviewers literally spent a third of the interview giving me travel advice for my trip to Canada. By establishing common ground, she became more receptive to me and the rest of my interview went well!

Idea #5: Keep networking

Alright, I cheated a bit. This idea isn’t another activity suggestion – it’s something you should be doing regardless of your summer plans.

I’ve included it because it is an activity that requires conscious attention and dedicated time. If you don’t have an internship this summer, you should be spending as much time as possible cold-emailing and networking to further your professional development and network.

Suppose you have your eye on a perfect internship/job for next year. You might be able to get an interview if you have a strong resume; however, in my experience, your odds are much higher if you have a strong network.

Remember the dream job formula?

Your Dream Job = Network + Resume + Interview Performance

You can make up for a weak resume with a strong network.

I’m going to repeat that sentence because it’s so important.

You can make up for a weak resume with a strong network.

Even with a great internship, if you aspire to land a highly competitive job, you need to hustle. If you don’t have an internship, you need to hustle twice as hard.

If you’ve got nothing going on this summer or are already stuck taking summer classes at your university, commit to spending 15-20 hours each week networking. Send cold emails, meet alumni for coffee, attend industry mixers and events; do anything necessary to get in front of professionals.

I promise, this will dramatically pay off on your personal learning, professional investment, and future ability to have fun and make money. This is the most effective idea on this list to maximize your future success.

With so many incredible opportunities within your grasp, there is no excuse to sit around this summer and feel sorry for yourself. The possibilities are endless.

In fact, why settle for only one? I encourage you to stack multiple ideas together. For example, it's very do-able to take an online class and consult for a local business simultaneously. On top of that, you should be networking all the time.

If you maximize the 4 criteria (Fun, Personal Learning, Professional Investment, Money), internship or not, you’re sure to have an awesome summer.

I urge you to set aside some time today to plan your summer. Think outside the box and take control of your time. You can do it.

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