If you’re a college student, you probably dream of that moment when you hand in your last exam, submit your final paper, or complete that big group project. By the time the spring semester is over, you’re ready for a break.

While you should definitely relax and recharge before you head back to school in the fall, consider taking advantage of the extra time on your hands to get a jump on your career. You can use the summer months to build your professional brand, gain work experience, take an extra course, or travel.

Many opportunities strike a balance between work and fun, so consider trying these ideas to make the most of your summer.

1. Prepare for the Fall Semester

Returning to school is probably not at the top of your mind right now, but it’s important to plan for your next semester.

You’ll want to finalize your living arrangements for the fall as soon as possible. Ask yourself what would suit you best: living on campus, renting a house with roommates, or settling into a studio apartment? You should base your decision on your needs, but more importantly, your budget.

Once you’ve determined your living arrangements, make a budget for the upcoming school year. Work out your income by calculating your earnings from a part-time or summer job, cash gifts from family, and loans, grants, or scholarships. Next, calculate your expenses, including tuition, textbooks, housing, groceries or meal plan, public transportation or gas, and cell phone bill.

You should also factor in nonessential spending like an occasional meal out. Figure out how much you can afford each month for little extras, and keep track of all of your spending.

2. Build Your Professional Network

The summer months are a good time to build your portfolio and take advantage of networking opportunities.

If you worked a part-time job during the school year, developed a new skill, or even took a first-aid course, you’ll want to update your resume. You should also look for outdated information. For example, listing your first part-time job might be unnecessary if you have more recent experience.

Once your resume is up to date, you can market yourself on LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile should have a professional picture, with current and accurate information. Since you’re a student and may not have much industry-related experience, feel free to list relevant classes you’ve completed and projects you’ve worked on.

Connect with industry professionals on LinkedIn, but also nourish your real-world connections. If you’re acquainted with someone who works in your field, try to arrange a meeting to discuss your goals and address any questions you have. You can also attend industry events, workshops, and lectures at your campus or around your city.

When you make a new connection at an event, always follow up with them afterwards—you may have just found a mentor or future employer. In fact, building relationships during the school year could put you in line for a great summer job or internship.

3. Get a Summer Job or Internship

There are many ways to get career experience during the summer months, from a job to an internship. First, think of your needs and goals. Do you need to earn money for tuition or living costs this summer? Are you looking for something career related? The closer you are to graduation, the more you might want to consider an industry-specific job or internship.

An internship will give you hands-on, career-specific training and can enhance your job opportunities once you graduate. You can find either paid or unpaid internships, although paid positions are more competitive, and are more likely to lead to job opportunities.

If the battle for a coveted internship position doesn’t go your way, a summer job can also provide you with career experience. To find a job related to your field of study, use your LinkedIn network, visit student services, or speak to your professors (they may have some inside connections).

Starting your own business is another great way to get ahead because many employers today value entrepreneurship in their workers. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, reach out to local businesses and see if they need design work done. If you’re an education student, start a tutoring service in your hometown.

To improve your chances of finding a job or internship this summer, start your search right after the winter holiday, make sure your resume is in top shape, and hone your interview skills.

4. Volunteer for a Cause

Another way to stand out and enhance your resume is through volunteer work. Employers look for volunteer experience, so it’s a good idea to dedicate some time to your favorite cause. Plus, you may get the opportunity to network with influential business people at fundraising events.

A big commitment isn’t necessary—you can volunteer as little as a few hours per week. You may even find an opportunity that will put your career skills into practice, such as coordinating a charity event or offering personal finance workshops to teens.

Alternatively, you can volunteer full time. If you’d like to go abroad, check with your student services center or local church for opportunities. Closer to home, you can look into the local chapter of your favorite charity or research volunteer postings online.

Modern employers are definitely scanning your resume for volunteer experience. A volunteer is often engaged, dependable, collaborative, and results driven—all characteristics of a great job candidate.

5. Take a Summer Course

Many college students are now enrolling in summer classes. Taking a course online or at your campus lets you lighten your workload in upcoming semesters and can help you to graduate on time.

Some students take a class in a subject they struggle with because they’re able to dedicate more time to the material. Some have a different strategy, and choose to take easy credits to fulfill their general education requirements.

If you dream of traveling, another great option is to enroll in a summer study abroad program through your school. You’ll easily be able to transfer your credits, as well as benefit from medical coverage and access to financial aid.

Whether you study abroad through your school or enroll in another available program, you’ll have some tough choices to make. Should you study art history in Italy? Or classic literature in England?

6. Travel and Learn

Of course, you don’t need to use a study abroad program as an excuse to take in a new culture this summer. Plenty of people say travel is the best learning experience.

Relocating to a foreign locale is becoming a popular option with college students. You’ll need to do a little research and planning first (things to think about include short-term accommodations, a work visa, and a temporary job), but it’ll be worth the life-changing experience.

If you’d prefer not to settle down, you can follow in the footsteps of countless college students and backpack through Europe or Southeast Asia. Backpacking gives you the opportunity to meet likeminded people, see something new every day, and get a taste of many different cultures.

Travel can bring out the qualities you’ll need to succeed in your future profession. Experiences like getting lost in a new city or having your wallet stolen can reveal your resiliency and independence. You’ll come home with a new perspective and sense of purpose. And that’s a great way to start a new semester.

Make the Most of Your Summer

There are millions of students with the same goal as you: scoring a great job right out of college. When you’ve worked hard all year, juggling term papers, study groups, a part-time job, and volunteer work, you’re exhausted come the end of the semester.

While it’s important to relax and enjoy your months off, summer is also an opportune time to set yourself up for future success. A great job or internship is just the tip of the iceberg. Take time this summer to build your professional network, get volunteer experience, take a class, and even travel.

Most importantly, do what it takes to be healthy and prepared for the fall semester.

What do you have planned this summer?

Posted by Jessica Kalmar

Jessica is a reader, writer, and outdoors enthusiast.