The summer season has always been a student favourite. A beacon of hope during the endless exam period, it is the only holiday that offers a continual itinerary of sun, sea and fun. For students everywhere it has always provided a liberating period between one busy university year and an even busier year to come. Consequently, students have never failed to embrace the many benefits of the summer break.
However, with the controversial rise in tuition fees to £9000 per year the necessity of university has been debated. Instead, value is increasingly being awarded to work experience and internships - tasks which demonstrate employability and practical skills. The consequence of this changing dynamic suggests that as the post-recession climate continues to hamper opportunity, the perks of the summer holiday may have to be sacrificed. With many university summer holidays lasting between 3 to 4 months, the break no longer presents itself as a lengthy period of relaxation, but as a useful and necessary opportunity to be productive. After all, a summer spent partying in Ibiza or lounging around on an inflatable turtle doesn't demonstrate promise in the way that a 2 month internship does.
As the argument against unpaid internships rages, it is clear that the question is no longer whether or not students need extra experience, in fact the latter is now assumed as an obvious essential for securing any job. The old mantra 'work hard, play hard' now seems a little off balance - instead work hard, then work harder seems to be the underlying message as mounting pressure is placed on students to make their summers worthwhile. With work experience and internships becoming obvious necessities in the student diary, what else can be done to make the most of the newly adapted summer break?
Organise and Apply
With applications for graduate schemes and competitive internships opening as early as July for the following summer, students need to start planning and preparing themselves for applications and interviews as early as possible. The end of exams no longer signals a marathon of partying, instead students need to get back to the drawing board to start editing CVs, writing covering letters and practising interview answers. By planning early, students won't limit themselves to whatever jobs are left and they are more likely to find a range of opportunities which they perhaps hadn't considered before. It's also important to send off as many applications as possible to increase the chance of being selected for the job or the next application stage. Start checking www.prospects.ac.uk, www.ratemyplacement.co.uk and your university's career service to find new jobs.
Like all types of work experience, voluntary work helps students to develop the vital sought-after transferable skills which can be used in the work place. More than this, voluntary work demonstrates a positive, selfless and committed attitude, all highly appealing attributes from an employer's perspective. The types of voluntary work available are broad and varied, from campaigning for Amnesty International, to providing weekly company for an elderly person. Students can also opt to volunteer in something career-related, such as online volunteering with the UN or legal volunteering for the National Centre for Domestic Violence. Students should start by researching what type of voluntary work they want to do and what they want to get out of it, as the possibilities are endless. Useful websites for inspiration and ideas include www.do-it.org.uk and www.volunteering.org.uk.
Develop a Skill Abroad
This is dangerous territory, as the second students set foot on a plane their motive is questioned - even gap year style voluntary projects are being treated with growing scepticism. However, if students are strategic, going abroad can still be justified and actually helpful in the increasingly competitive career pool. Going abroad to learn a language or to gain foreign work experience not only demonstrates initiative and commitment, but it helps students to stand out from the crowd. Going to Brazil to learn Spanish whilst gaining valuable journalist work experience from a local newspaper is going to look much more impressive than a week spent filing post at your local solicitors. Research the areas of work and languages that you are interested in and use the summer break to organise a placement, accommodation and costs for the next summer.