Summer is a wonderful time for relaxation and outdoor experiences, but it’s also the perfect time for teens to develop new skills and meet interesting people. Striking the right balance between lazy days at the beach and working in an organized setting requires planning, but a little structure can’t hurt, and might result in an enjoyable and productive summer break.

By Wendi Ostroff

There are numerous opportunities awaiting eager students – everything from camp counselor to political intern to college coursework.  Deciding what to do involves research and thought, and needs to happen weeks before the last day of school. Deadlines are fast approaching.  Here are five questions for teens to ask themselves as they ponder their plans for summer (now!).

1. What are my interests? What do I want to study in college?

Focus your summer search based upon your interests. Spending the summer doing something you are passionate about makes the experience more meaningful and fun. If you want to be a scientist, consider applying to work at science camps, museums, hospitals…

2. Is an unpaid internship OK or do I want to earn money?

This is an important consideration. If you want to earn money this summer and find only unpaid internships offered in your field, you will need to accept a position outside your desired area.  This may be a more traditional entry-level job like scooping ice cream or stocking shelves which can be a valuable way to learn customer service and time management skills. You are gaining experience and building your resume either way, and that’s the goal.  If time allows, you can also volunteer a few hours in the field of your choice.

3. Am I already connected to any local organizations? Where can I volunteer?

This is a networking question, who do you know?  If you have volunteered in the past and have connections to a particular organization, ask about openings or suggestions for summer work. Many organizations need a constant flow of volunteers and they also provide training. This can be a good entry point for young people and can help fulfill high school requirements for community service.  See our blog on volunteering below.

4. Are there courses offered through the local university or community college that will help with my college transcript?

Consider beefing up your college application by taking a summer course. Make a commitment to apply yourself and earn credit for college-level learning. Your high school or college counselor can help identify courses that make sense for you.

5. Should I ‘try out’ college by going to a summer program in a different city or state?

There are numerous pre-college programs around the country.  They are expensive but offer an opportunity to experience college life away from home.  Consult the college web site of your choice for more information and pay close attention to deadlines.