What Can My College Student Do During Winter Break?

 Most college students eagerly look forward to Winter Break as a welcome respite from their college life.  Whether your student has adjusted well to college life or is still struggling to find his place, the break from school and the chance to rest and regroup is welcome.  Although some schools may break just for the holidays, many colleges have a break that extends through mid-January or even until the end of January.  Once your student has been able to sleep and recover from final exams, once the activity of the holidays is over, the rest of Winter Break may loom ahead.

Some schools may have a January Term or Winter Intersession Term.  This winter session may be optional or it may be required.  Obviously, if your student is required to attend or chooses to attend an intersession term, then Winter Break will be shorter. 

If Winter Intersession is optional, there are several reasons that your student may choose to attend.  Some schools offer specialized, interesting courses during this term.  Your student might choose a short course about something completely different from what he does during a regular semester.  This may be an opportunity to study with a new professor or try a new subject.  Your student may choose to attend Winter Term to make up for lost credits from a course that was dropped or to get a few extra credits ahead.  Students do need to remember that Winter Intersession courses are intensive.  If this is a full credit course, a lot of material will be covered in a short time and a lot of work will be required.

Your student may decide to attend a Winter Term for social reasons.  Perhaps several of his close friends will also be there.  He will, of course, need to be careful that he stays focused if he is taking a full credit course, but this is a good indication that he has made some good friends and connections at school.

What if your student does not choose to return to school for an Intersession?  A winter break that extends two, three, or even four weeks past the holidays may seem like a long time to be catching up on sleep.  There are several other things that you and your student might discuss as options for break.

  • First of all, remember that your student does need some down time while she is home.  She may not need to sleep for a month, but college life is active and sometimes quite stressful.  There are people around much of the time – even when she is in her room.  Students juggle classes and study time and activities and work and friends.  Your student needs some time to enjoy the sanctuary of home.  Be patient if she does seem to sleep more and want time just to do nothing.
  • If your student wants to stay home for break but would like to get a few extra credits, he could consider an intersession class at a local college.  If he decides to do this, he should check with his institution prior to taking a local class to be sure that the credits will transfer.
  • Some schools offer special trips or field experiences during this term.  Some even offer mini study abroad opportunities.  If your student is considering studying abroad for a semester or for a year, this might be a good opportunity to try it out for a brief time before committing to a full year.
  • Your student may be lucky enough to be able to return to his summer job for a few weeks to make some extra money.
  • Your student may be able to find a temporary job for the holidays or inventory season. 
  • If your student doesn’t currently have a job, winter break may be a good time to begin looking for a summer job.  It isn’t too early.  She can spend some time visiting local places in person to ask about availability, submit an application and ask for an interview.  Many employers will hire summer help well before your student comes home at the end of the semester.
  • Your student might consider a short-term internship.  He can check with his Internship or Career Services office before coming home.  Whether this is a formal internship for credit, or something less formal, this is a good opportunity to gain some work experience and/or explore a career.
  • Your student may spend time shadowing someone in a field he is considering.
  • If your student is a senior, this is an excellent time to put in the work on polishing a resume and cover letter, compile a list of potential employers, investigate careers.
  • If your student knows her schedule for spring (and she should) she can order textbooks on line early.  Textbooks take time to arrive by mail at this busy time of year.  Getting a head start will ensure that she has her books when the semester starts.
  • If your student has her textbooks for spring, she might get started doing a bit of reading.  Why not start the semester ahead of the game?
  • Your student (and you) might use some of this time to get a head start on financial aid paperworkComplete the FAFSA, do a search for extra scholarships, gather financial information needed.  Get a head start on taxes.
  • Your student might contact his high school guidance office to ask if he can come in to talk to current seniors about his college experiences.  Some high schools may even schedule a special breakfast or lunch with college students. 
  • Your student may spend some of his January time volunteering. This will give him a chance to get out of the house, gain some experience, and feel good about using his time to help someone else.

Winter Break can easily turn into a difficult time between parents and returning college students if it is completely unfocused.  You may quickly lose patience with your student if she seems unmotivated and at loose ends.  It is important for both you and your student to find a balance between the need to relax and recharge for the next semester and the need to have a purpose for these few weeks.  Help your student consider what, and how much, he wants to undertake during break and it will be a good experience for everyone.

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