Many colleges and universities chose to condense the fall and spring semesters into two three-month semesters with no fall or spring breaks. This calendar change decreases travel in and out of campuses, yet it poses an odd challenge. What is a college student to do with several weeks at home during a pandemic? My fall semester ends right before Thanksgiving, and the spring semester is set to begin in early February. While the end of November and much of December lend themselves to celebrating the holiday season, my January seems particularly blank.
While we’re all probably looking forward to home-cooked meals and resting up, there’s only so much lounging around we can do before things start to get boring. Even if you’re someone who’s happy camped out on the couch for days, this extra-long break provides an opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to spend some time planning now, so you can make the most out of your longer-than-usual winter break.
Because the break shouldn’t be about optimizing productivity or working all day long (it is a break after all), frame it as an opportunity for personal development. Before I dive into some tangible ways to grow this break, ask yourself: How do I want to grow as a person during this long break? The answer to this question will look different for all of us — you might think about your growth physically, emotionally, spiritually, or even professionally. Here are three growth areas college students might focus on during this longer-than-usual winter break.
First, rest and rejuvenate.
The first order of business is catching up on missed sleep over finals. There’s nothing like the joy that comes with not setting an alarm for the morning — embrace it! Remember too, however, that while sleep is an important part of rest, there’s more to it than that.
In addition to your body, rest your mind and your heart. From navigating college life during a pandemic to finishing up your to-do list at the end of the semester, your mind will be tired. Go for walks, read books that ease your mind, play games, and spend leisure time with family and friends. Your brain will thank you for the break, and your heart probably will, too. To grow in your capacity for resting, try keeping a consistent sleep schedule, commit to a rejuvenating workout routine, spend nights in, or maybe just allow yourself to take a nap here and there!
Second, learn something.
In college, our imaginations are constantly stimulated by reading interesting books and essays, group projects, and professional development. We are also continuously learning about ourselves and who we are and who we want to be in this world. During this break, embrace your curiosity and dive into something else you’re interested in learning more about. You finally have the time for it!
Maybe you’re interested in learning more about a subject area or developing a skill that doesn’t fall in line with your major or minor. Rather than letting those interests diminish, look for an online class or course through your college or university or an accredited organization. For example, edX offers courses in everything from Python programming to emotional intelligence. If more class isn’t your thing during the break, choose a podcast on a topic you’re interested in and listen to it every day, or just visit your local bookstore or library and pick up a book for fun!
If you are looking for professional development, take some time to look into a few industry leaders and their backgrounds before they had arrived where they are now. Subscribe to a newsletter, follow a few CEOs on social media, or reach out to an alum of your college that inspires you and ask them for a virtual coffee meeting.
It’s never a bad idea to make some spending money for the next semester, or just to save it for the future. Consider getting a part-time job if you’re able and comfortable with working in-person during the pandemic. Retail stores might need help wrapping Christmas packages, restaurants might need help waiting tables, or maybe your neighbor needs some help watching their kids. There are often small opportunities that add up to big savings if you’re willing to reach out to people and businesses in your community or neighborhood.
If you’re not comfortable with working outside your home right now, or you’re looking for some different kinds of work than local jobs or babysitting gigs, look into a more traditional or technical internship. Seek out work opportunities through your college — research groups, media networks, and academic offices might consider taking on a student intern. Or, you could look on your college’s career platform (mine uses Handshake) and see if there are any companies offering winter or early spring internships. It may take some time to find the right opportunity, but don’t be afraid to reach out to someone at the company, share your resume with them, and ask for some advice or help. As scary as it can seem, it pays off to make connections!
At the end of the break …
Above all else, remember that this is a break from the busyness of college life to reset. We are living through an odd and difficult time right now. Give yourself some space and silence to intentionally recollect yourself and take stock of where you are in your journey. It’s a strange time, but it can also be an opportunity for growth if we approach it thoughtfully.