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

We have welcomed our returning college students with open arms, not flinching at the mountain of dirty clothes and dorm stuff they drag (and leave) into front hallways. 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-January.

Arguments over curfew, drinking and sleeping arrangements can easily upend family harmony. But even if those landmines are avoided, there is often a mismatch between parents who are super busy and kids who seem to log loads of time on the couch.

teen reading on couch

Constructive ideas for how college students can use winter break

Your teen needs to sleep over the holiday, and they will love being back in their own beds. Some may have a job lined up for winter break (YEAH!) but may have downtime on weekends and the evenings. How can you motivate your kid to make the most of their precious commodity of time? Print out the following 31 ideas, tape it to the fridge and leave a second copy under the remote control.

1. Look for a job (for the summer or after graduation) – finding a job is high up on every college student’s to do list. 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 profileLinkedin 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, here is a good source with links to templates.

4. Resell old textbooks from high school or college – Amazon and Barnes & Noble Textbooks have buy-back programs that are easy and include 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.

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 at your closest community college for a cost-effective way that might help you gradate in four years.

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 go for breakfast or see a movie together – make memories this winter break for both of you.

7. Visit grandparents – other than your parents, these adults have loved you with all their hearts since your very first breath. Take the time to visit them, offer to help around their house, take them out to lunch with some of their friends. Let them get to know you as the wonderful adult you have become.

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 you step foot in the class. 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 of family vacations – when was the last family vacation that you took with your parents and siblings? Why not create a photo book 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. Apple makes it incredibly easy to do this in an afternoon.

13. Find a THEN pic and stage a NOW pic – speaking of pictures, locate an old photo of you and your siblings and recreate one with all of you. You may think it’s a bit corny but your parents will love it.

14. Research study abroad optionsif 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 college students you know and see what advice they have for you.

15. Get a certificationlook at the Red Cross website or visit your local YMCA and see if there are any programs offered that can lead to certification in CPR, first aid, lifeguarding.

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 HelloFresh IF you do the cooking.

19. Take a few yoga classes – finding a way to de-stress in college, and beyond, is crucial and yoga might just become your go-to technique. If you have never tried it, find a local studio that offers an introductory class (maybe for free?) and start to learn the basics.

20. Create an exercise routine – if you’re already a regular gym-goer, don’t slack off while you’re home. 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 after winter break. One easy way to start is through a 7-minute workout. Here’s the science behind it and the app to download that requires no equipment and minimal time.

21. Set goals – it’s the perfect time to think about what you hope to accomplish in 2020.

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. Look for a sporting event, a concert or play. Make reservations for brunch. Find a museum exhibit. Plan a hike and surprise everyone with a picnic. These are memories your family will cherish.

24. Assemble two interview-worthy outfits – when it’s time to meet with a recruiter, you need to project a professional appearance. Go through your closet and see what fits, what needs to be tailored and cleaned. If you need to shop, hit the stores that offer student discounts and don’t forget that you need to invest in grown-up looking shoes, too.

25. Find a reason to 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 night to go out for pizza or sushi.

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 are 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 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 a current high school student either while you are home or back on campus with a future college visit. Let your counselor know you are 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.

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 TV on the couch? Take on the messy responsibility of bath time and enjoy the one-on-one with your best buddy.

31. Look for scholarships – there is no denying that college is expensive and, by helping you pay for an education, your parents are giving you a truly life-changing gift. Why not demonstrate your gratitude by seeing if there are ways you can supplement their generosity by researching scholarships? Start here:

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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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