Breaks at the college level tend to last longer than they did in high school, because during the winter and summer breaks the school can offer more classes. Therefore, you have a lot of options of how you can utilize that time.
My freshman year, I was able to work my summer job during the winter and summer break. The rest of my winter breaks I actually took off and relaxed (sometimes you just need to relax and recharge after a difficult semester), but I generally tried to find work to do over the summer break (whether or not I could find a seasonal job in our current economy is another story).
My advice for most students is to make good use of your summer. You can take summer session classes if you want to graduate on time or focus on a class that may be more difficult and take more time to focus on. Sometimes certain specialty courses are only offered during the summer, so it could be a good opportunity to learn something new. Another option (if you can afford it) is to take a study abroad course, where you can study, tour, and learn about a different country. If you check out your foreign language department I’m sure they have study abroad opportunities for you to look into and would point you to grant and scholarship options to make it more affordable. If you are majoring or minoring in a foreign language it is great practice, but there are also English language options available for those that don’t want to learn a new language but still want to travel.
If you don’t want to (or can’t afford) to take a summer class, then you definitely want to be working. Your summer jobs not only act as saving opportunities, so you can have more spending money during the school year or more money ready for after graduation expenses such as student loans, but they are also great experience and look good on your resume when applying for jobs later. When you are applying for jobs, it’s better to have some experience and to prove you’ve worked before. If you don’t have any work experience by the time you graduate and haven’t spent your breaks taking classes or volunteering etc., your interviewer is going to wonder why. No matter what job you wind up with, you can find a way to pinpoint certain tasks or qualities about the job that tie in with the job you may be applying for. An example is how my hostessing job at the Hard Rock Casino buffet helped me get a job as a student usher at the Mitchell Center, since they both require good customer service skills. The same skills apply to my current marketing position which involves public relations.
Other ways you can occupy your time is by either volunteering or finding an internship. Volunteering can be another good way to build up skills or to gain contacts and references when applying for jobs later. It is also a fulfilling activity that not only helps your community but can make you feel like you’ve accomplished something positive. An internship is also very important, because it can help you gain work experience in the field you are interested in and help you gain a skill set specific to the career you have in mind. An internship can also help you gain good contacts to get a later job or, as in my case, it can lead to a full time job.
If you are unable to find a job, can’t afford to take classes, can’t join any volunteering activities, or are unable to gain an internship, the least you can do is pick up some hobbies or work on improving your skill set to make yourself more marketable. Maybe learn how to use a design program such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, or learn how to build applications for smart phones. The more skills you have or the more programs you know how to use, the more you will be able to market yourself when applying for a job. Although it is tempting to waste your whole 3 and 1/2 months of summer having fun or slacking off, it is much more worthwhile and beneficial to find a way to utilize it for your future.