Summer vacation is the perfect time to kick back and relax, but you can use it for career option exploration too!

During college, everyone I knew spent their summer in one of two ways: taking a couple of summer classes, partying, and hanging out or working full-time in unfulfilling (but profitable) jobs. I thought I was being responsible by positioning myself in the latter group, but looking back, I wish I had taken further advantage of my potential freedom during college breaks.

Most of us need some sort of profitable employment during the summer to pay the bills and make ends meet, but most of us probably have more freedom between semesters to explore different options than we ever will once we earn our diploma.

Use your summer vacation to your advantage by exploring your options, pursuing meaningful opportunities, and connecting what you do right now to what you ultimately want to do in your future career.

1. Take strategic risks.

While most of us need to work through college, including breaks, don’t settle for the first job opportunity that comes along if you can help it. Apply for internships out of state, reach out to shadow employees in your desired field, or volunteer your time at an organization you care about.

The key here is to look for jobs you might actually want to do for a living once you graduate. Most of us look for summer jobs in the city we know we’re going to be living in, but for those of us from rural towns, the job pickings can be slim, particularly in our fields of study.

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Apply for relevant jobs in new cities. Take risks and learn along the way. The travel costs will likely pay off if you’re working in your field, gaining valuable experience, and building a network while you’re there.

2. Don’t let down time become wasted time.

When I first began working full-time during summer vacations, I found it to be mentally and physically draining. Staring at a computer screen for eight straight hours is deceptively exhausting, but don’t let it fool you.

You still have plenty of free time on the evenings and weekends to be productive. Use this time wisely by volunteering, freelancing, or blogging. It’s never too early to start your side hustle or start marketing yourself online.

In her article (aimed at the unemployed, but with relevant advice anyway) “5 Ways to Make a Jobless Summer Productive,” Katy Hopkins mentions, “In a job market that’s both increasingly tough and increasingly virtual, establishing a personal brand is key to standing out from the hordes of other college students with similar GPAs and glossy résumés.” Create a personalized blog or online portfolio to showcase your interests and abilities, a hobby that can be both rewarding and fun.

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3. Live a little!

Remember, summer vacation is ultimately your reward for the all nighters and impossible professors you encounter during the school year. Take some time to yourself to travel, read a good book, or try out a new hobby or workout routine. We all need time to ourselves, and summer vacation is perfect for little breaks to help us relax and recharge.

Summer vacation can be more (much more) than an opportunity to simply recuperate from a debilitating course load. It’s also a good three months full of opportunities for personal and professional growth. While it’s crucial to take time to relax and enjoy the weather, summer vacation should be put to good use to facilitate a productive and successful school year and beyond.