Holiday Special: How to Make the Most Out of Your Break

1. Embrace the Spirit of the Season

Tis the season, so consider making the gift that keeps on giving: volunteer with a local community organization. Charitable organizations are always in need of an extra set of hands, and volunteering is a fulfilling way to contribute to your community while making new friends, exploring areas of interest and rounding out your CV. This can be done at any level of commitment, and offers big potential payoffs — both personally and professionally. So whether you volunteer at the corner soup kitchen on Christmas Eve or commit to a weekly gig at the local animal shelter, plenty of positions exist for both short- and long-term volunteering opportunities. And don’t underestimate the potential of networking; most nonprofits have advisory boards full of successful and well-connected business people just waiting to be impressed by your hard work and commitment.

hipster in Santa Claus clothes  holding gift boxes

2. Get a Job

Whether that holiday shopping list hit your wallet a little harder than anticipated or you want to get a jumpstart on student loans, an abundance of seasonal work is available at this time of year. If your bank account is quickly dwindling to all-time lows, explore work opportunities with local businesses in need of holiday coverage. Whether you take an office temp job or a sales position at the mall to help during the holiday retail rush, you can pad your pockets with cash while padding your CV in the process. While internships may not pay in dollars, they also offer a solid return on your investment by improving your post-graduation hiring chances. Even if you don’t end up finding a position, the job hunt provides the chance to update and refine your CV.

3. See the World

If the price tag of traveling is holding you back, get creative. While many student travel options involve advance planning — such as cultural exchange programs, travel grants and teaching English abroad — others are more immediately accessible. Think of all of the friends you made during first semester; now think of their hometowns. Whether your roommate is from a far flung corner of the globe or a nearby metropolitan area you’ve been dying to explore, options abound for holiday travel destinations. Take advantage of the winning combination of friends in interesting places and a few solid weeks off by doing some well-earned globe trotting. By staying with friends, you not only reap free lodging, but also the chance to enhance relationships, explore a different culture and learn critical language skills. If the friends angle doesn’t work out, look into ridesharing and couchsurfing. These super-cheap options won’t blow your bank account, but be sure to do your research to ensure safe travels. Those who aren’t afraid of a little manual labor, meanwhile, can explore farming work. These positions typically provide food, lodging and a stipend, while offering the chance to get in touch with the land and enjoy a temporary taste of the simple life.

4. Hit the Books…

While it may sound crazy to spend your break studying, you’ll be thanking yourself come January when the pace picks up at school and you find yourself ahead of the game. Consult your syllabi to see which assignments and exams are coming up, and revisit areas of weakness based on past results. If you fell behind during the last semester, use this time to catch up. Even spending time reviewing citation guidelines can lead to a more prepared and confident start to the upcoming semester. Don’t go overboard and read your entire Macroeconomics textbook, but a chapter or two can’t hurt. Want to really impress your professor? Email him or her for a leg up on next semester. This is also a great time to set goals: are you hoping to become more involved on campus or to achieve a particular grade point average? Write these goals down to improve your chances of achieving them. An added benefit of hitting the books over the holidays? The convenient excuse that you “have to study” provides a break from Aunt Mildred’s incessant doting.

5.….But Not Too Hard

Too much time spent working and studying may lead to regret once school resumes. While the academic year can be a non-stop rush of moving from one thing to the next, the holidays offer the chance to embrace the stillness. Take time to pause and count your blessings by spending quality time with family members and old friends. Whether you head to the local pub or have a game night at home, reminiscing and reconnecting with loved ones is good for the soul. Also make sure to build in some critical “you” time in order to achieve emotional fulfillment. This may mean catching up on pleasure reading or planning next summer’s cycling trip down the coast. And don’t forget about taking control of your physical health. If late night study snacks and post-exam beers have led you down an unhealthy path, take this opportunity to reacquaint yourself with green leafy vegetables and your running shoes.