Winter Break: 31 Ways Students Can Make the Most of Free Time

We have welcomed our returning college students with open arms, not flinching at the mountain of dirty clothes and dorm stuff they may drag (and leave) into front hallways. We love having them under roof again and know how much THEY love sleeping in their own beds. This was an unusual and stressful fall semester and students need time to rest and relax.

But as THEIR down time over winter break continues, and our life resumes post-holiday, parental goodwill toward nearly grown kids who have too much time on their hands can grow thin, especially if spring semester doesn’t resume until mid or even late January this year. With so many pandemic restrictions in place in now, binging on Netflix can lead to boredom and your teen may welcome ideas of things to do.

Here are 31 ways that college students can make the most of winter break. (Hint: Print it out and leave it near the remote control where they are sure to find it.)

teen reading on couch

How college students can use free time this winter break

Some college students might be working at a seasonal job  or have found other ways to make money this winter break but, if you still have time on your hands, here are ideas for how to use your free time before you go back to college.

1. Look for a job (for the break, summer or after graduation)

If you haven’t clicked onto your college career office website, do that today as you may need to create an account to use the services. According to this college dean, career services is an underutilized area on all campuses that undergraduates should begin using from freshman year on.  You cannot start the process too soon.

2. Create a LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is ground zero for many employers who scan the database for students with qualifications that match their needs. Some jobs require LinkedIn just to apply. Find a suitable (not holding a solo cup) profile picture and create an account.

3. Update your resume

If you’ve not needed a resume to get a summer job while in high school, college is the time to start one. Check your college’s career counseling website for resources or if you need more help, Handshake is a good place to start.

4. Resell old textbooks from high school or college

Barnes & Noble Textbooks has a buy-back program that is easy and includes free shipping. Locate the ISBN number on each book and input it into a link on the site to discover if there is any resell value. You will get a quote on the spot and a shipping label.  All you need is a shipping box and a little time to gather all the books you no longer need or want. Cash4Books is another site to check out to see if you can get more money for each book.

5. January term

Time during winter break may be the perfect opportunity to get a leg up on core requirements. Look into the offerings at your own college as well as community college for a cost-effective way to bank a few credits.  With more offerings online now, you might be surprised to find a class that matches your course requirements.

6. Spend time with younger siblings

You may not realize how much you’ve been missed by your younger siblings since you’ve been away at school. You will always be their much-admired big brother or sister so set up board games, plan movie nights, or surprise your parents with cooking dinner together with them. Make memories this winter break for both of you.

7. Visit grandparents, safely

Other than your parents, these adults have loved you with all their hearts since your very first breath. Take the time to visit them – via Zoom or in a socially-distanced outdoor setting.

8. Take the car in for servicing

Is there a family car that you are allowed to use when you’re home? When does the inspection sticker expire? Does the oil need changing? How about getting it washed? Take part in the maintenance of the car and, if your parents are letting you drive it back to college in the fall, look at this checklist to make sure you are ready for the road trip.  

9. Gather and sell old electronics

Chargers, old iPods, phones, cases, games and game systems, CD’s can all bring money if you spend a little time and research who buys what. Learn how to gather and recycle old electronics here and, of course,  the Amazon Trade In Program is a one stop shop for trade-ins.

10. Get a jump on reading for the spring semester

Do you have any courses that will be reading-intensive? Why not get a jump on academics by picking one of the books off the reading list and finishing it before class begins. Besides, you can never waste time reading a quality book.

11. Go through high school mementos and cull them

Clutter is the enemy and you are the only one who can fight the battle between what stays and what goes in your old room. Perhaps some of those programs, pictures, knickknacks that once seemed so precious to you have lost a little luster. Time to trash things now.

12. Make a digital book or 2021 calendar

When was the last family vacation that you took with your parents and siblings? With the pandemic curtailing travel, that trip might be even more meaningful than you realized at the time! Why not create a photo book or calendar for 2021 with pics that are living on your phone? If you want to save the project for Mother’s Day or an upcoming birthday, you will be way ahead with this project in the bank. Shutterfly has easy templates.

13. Improve your skills

Enroll in the the FREE Coursera for Students Plan to take advantage of online classes with unlimited guided projects and one free course each year. Here are FREE online courses available through HarvardX. 

14. Research study abroad options

if you’re planning on studying abroad, this is the ideal time to research programs, both ones that your college offers and others that are available elsewhere. Ask around for recommendations from other students and see what advice they have for you. While traveling this summer might not be an option, plan for when international travel will once again be safe.

15. Get a certification

Look at the Red Cross website or visit your local YMCA’s website and see if there are any programs offered that can lead to certification in CPR, first aid, or lifeguarding. Many options that were once in-person are now online.

16. Research graduate programs and requirements

You may find it hard to see beyond life as a college student, but if you think that graduate school is in your future somewhere down the road, take the time to look at a few university websites. Find out about required entrance exams, average GPAs, undergraduate course work required, firms that recruit at the school…. understanding more about grad programs could give you more focus in your current course of study.

17. Consign or donate clothes

Are any of your clothes or accessories consignment-worthy? Alternatively, if they are still wearable but you no longer have any need for them, look for a Goodwill, or local charity that can use what you no longer need.

18. Learn to cook

Time in the kitchen is never wasted and the best way to learn to cook is to, simply, cook. Your parents have been the ones planning, shopping for and preparing meals for decades. Why not take over the responsibilities for a few evenings and master some new recipes at the same time? Maybe your parents would be willing to sign up for a meal subscription service like Blue Apron IF you do the cooking.

19. Help your neighbors

There’s never been a better time to reach out to your neighbors to see if they could use your help this winter. With the pandemic, elderly neighbors, in particular, might need someone to run errands, grocery shop for them, or shovel snow.

20. Create an exercise routine

Don’t slack off from exercising despite restrictions on exercise classes or gym closures.  If you’ve never gotten in the habit, this could be a perfect time to begin to exercise so that when you return to campus, you bring this healthy new habit back with you. There are infinite online options that offer guided instruction with varying length of class times and types – strength, core, yoga, aerobic, and more.

21. Set goals

It’s the perfect time to think about what you hope to accomplish in 2021.

22. Create a budget

You have at least one semester in the bank now and know what expenses you incurred that you might not have expected. Create a spreadsheet and sit with your parents to review your financial needs for the spring.

23. Plan a family excursion

Although winter break feels like it will go on forever, there are only so many weekends when your entire family might be free to gather for an outing. The destination might be virtual or outdoors this winter break, depending on your local climate and restrictions. These are memories your family will cherish.

24. Assemble two interview-worthy outfits

When it’s time to meet with a recruiter, you’ll need to project a professional appearance. For virtual interviews, make sure you’re ready with Zoom tops or jackets.  Go through your closet and see what fits, what needs to be tailored and cleaned. If you need to shop, look for stores that offer student discounts.

25. Get the old gang together

Have you kept in touch with your high school friends or do you find those relationships to be slowly drifting away? Take the initiative, send out a few texts and plan a Zoom event or get together for a socially-distanced outdoor gathering.

26. Doctors appointments

Have you outgrown the pediatrician’s office with the toys scattered around the waiting room floor? Talk to your parents about switching to an internist for your next appointment. While you’re at it, do you need to see a dentist, dermatologist, the eye doctor, a gynecologist? Stop asking your mom to make these appointments for you and get them on your calendar.

27. Summer internships

Are you looking for an internship this summer? Do some research now while you have time so you don’t miss an opportunity when you get busy once you’re back at school.

28. Check in with your high school guidance counselor

You can be a helpful resource for current high school students, especially with campus visits curtailed.  Let your counselor know you’re willing to offer advice and counsel.

29. A dose of culture

Are there museums in your hometown (or nearby) which you haven’t visited since you were in 3rd grade? Maybe it’s time to give culture another shot even if your visit can only be virtual.

30. Give your dog a bath

Remember how much you missed your dog when you first went away to school and how happy you are to have your pup snoozing by your side while you’re watching Netflix on the couch? Take on the messy responsibility of bath time and enjoy the one-on-one with your best buddy.

31. Volunteer your time

There is so much need right now and if you can volunteer in your community this might be the very best way to spend winter break.  There are also virtual volunteer opportunities to explore.

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Winter Break Jobs for Teens and College Students

About Mary Dell Harrington

Mary Dell is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Mary Dell

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