Planning a Meaningful Freshman Summer (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Explore Your Interests in Travel, the Outdoors, or Physical Development

Do you love the outdoors and want to become more skilled in this area? Perhaps you could make some money this summer working as a national forest ranger or a fire monitor in a remote wilderness location, or working on a trail crew or for any of a number of wilderness preservation societies that are always looking for part-time summer help on specific projects.

If money is less of an object, might you want to combine your love of the outdoors with a spiritual quest or an effort to really get back in shape, by hiking part of the Appalachian Trail or the Continental Divide or any other part of the country?

Explore Your Interest in Politics or Administration

Are you a likely poli sci, history, or government major? Are you interested in attending law school or interested in a particular political or social issue? Or are you just a political junkie? Is this a campaign year? Could you hook up with a political campaign as a policy analyst, speechwriter, advance person, researcher, campaign worker, or media adviser, or in any of a virtually unlimited number of other capacities? If it isn't a campaign year, perhaps you could to look toward Washington, D.C., where you might land a summer job working alongside thousands of other college students as an aide, page, researcher, or policy assistant.

Do you love your college and have visions of becoming an admissions officer someday? If so, a summer working in the admissions office as an interviewer is a common first step to that popular post.

Are you interested in a social issue that is addressed by a particular local, state, regional, or national agency? Might you want to work there this summer to explore your interest in the subject?


So now that you've had a chance to review your goals and interests and to kick-start your imagination, it's time to brainstorm. What is it that you want to accomplish with your freshman summer? Grab a pen or pencil and list a bunch of ideas. Then rejoin us to learn about a way to make sure you actually take action with respect to these ideas.

Okay. Now look at the ideas you brainstormed, pick four or five of them, and put them in an order of priority from highest (1) to lowest (4 or 5) by just writing a number in a circle next to them. Go ahead, do it now.

Putting It All Together - An Example

Now I want you to think really creatively here. How could you accomplish three, four, or all five of these goals at the same time in the same summer? And how amazing do you think you would feel if you could actually pull this off?

Let's Look at an example.

Suppose you identified the following as your freshman year summer goals: (1) making money, (2) getting in better shape, (3) spending some time in the outdoors, and (4) finding some time "away from it all" to contemplate the meaning and direction of your life. What could you possibly do with your freshman summer that would make you feel fulfilled and would further the pursuit of your goals?

Obviously, procrastinating about this decision and then defaulting to working as a file clerk at your mother's law firm, though it may pay some bills, is not going to advance your personal agenda very much. At most, you will be deferring the decision about what you want to do, which may increase your anxiety and put more pressure on you next year; you will also be subverting your desires to get back in shape and be outdoors to your desire to make money. And chances are, you end up feeling miserable and unfulfilled.

So get creative. What if you got a job working on a mountain trail crew in the Rockies? Instead of filing paper, you would spend your days hiking, clearing brush, repairing washouts and preventing erosion, and working outdoors in the wilderness. Nights would be spent in remote cabins, in tents, or under the stars. Because your meals and accommodations would be provided, your expenses would be limited to the costs of getting out there and back, and whatever incidentals you chose to incur. Now, instead of meeting a single goal, you'd be addressing all four of your priorities in a single job in a single summer.

How good would that make you feel?

You say you're not into cutting trails? What about working as a forest ranger? Or as a fire spotter? Or as an attendant at one of the cabins run by the Appalachian Mountain Club? Any one of these positions would allow you to meet all four of your stated freshman summer goals. And there are countless other jobs that would do it too.

"I worked at a dude ranch in Wyoming and had a blast," Carolyn recalls. "I spent part of almost every day hiking in some of the most beautiful mountains in this country. Honestly, my advice for the summer after freshman year would be to do something fun that can also earn you some money. I would not necessarily advise getting a job designed to help you get a job out of college. There is plenty of time for that later."

"I think something meaningful is something that does one of the following things for you," Jim noted. "One: something that makes you feel good by helping others; two: something that helps you make a career decision or helps you better define what you want to do; three: something that contributes significantly to your financial ability to attend school; four: something that helps establish contacts and experience that will help you land the job you want after school; or five: something, like summer study abroad, that enables you to have an experience that you may never again be able to enjoy."

"For me, what was meaningful the summer after freshman year was to go home," Zoe concluded. "I worked at an inn ten minutes from home, saved some money, lived with my parents, hung out with old friends, and pursued some ro­mantic adventures. Just before school started, I flew out to Illinois and drove back to Maine with my roommate-to-be. Did I contribute to the greater good of the world or 'broaden my horizons'? Probably not. But I did have a great, stress-free time, and returned for sophomore year feeling rejuvenated and grounded."

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