There are few sensations in life that compare with the giddiness you feel on the last day of high school.
You’ve happily surrendered your textbooks to the authorities. You’ve exhumed your gym shorts from the bottom of your locker, and they were not a pretty sight. You’ve walked at graduation and you’ve even resisted the urge to streak, moon, or otherwise expose a body part meant to remain hidden behind your rented gown.
Good for you. If I had a cookie, I’d give it to you.
But that’s all behind you now. You are a high school graduate. In the immortal words of Alice Cooper, “school’s out forever,” at least in the way that you know it. College looms in the near distance like some golden autumn dream, filling you up with anticipation and uncertainty.
Then something unexpected happens. Right there in the limbo between your parole from high school and your first day on campus, boredom sets in. You’re just one month into your summer vacation, and you’ve gotten a little too comfortable sleeping until noon, watching Judge Judy, and changing your clothes only when they fail the smell test.
I’m not saying you’re lazy. (That’s for your parents to do.) I’m just saying that you’ve had enough time to celebrate your achievement. It’s time to move on. As the summer doldrums set in and you find yourself with enough free time to contemplate the very meaning of your life (never a good thing to do while watching Judge Judy), consider instead everything that you could be doing to prepare for the challenges ahead.
Now, I’m not talking about registering for classes or buying your text books. You’ll get around to that stuff. But right now, the goal is to reduce your boredom, not compound it. Fortunately, there are all kinds of constructive ways to use your summer vacation that can help you fight off boredom while simultaneously carving you into the model college student.
Bottom line, if you’re bored during your summer break, it means you’re doing it wrong.
Consider these Ten Ways Recent Grads Can Fight Summer Boredom. They may not all make sense for your particular situation, but here within is the antidote to your unique summer bummer.
1. Get To Work
I’ll start out by letting you in on a little secret. The college major you’re buzzing about right now could well be a distant memory by the time you start your junior year. In fact, an estimated 75% of college students will change their major at least once before graduation.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, you have to experience something to know that it’s not for you. Well, as long as you’ve got some summer left, consider getting a jumpstart on this experience. Seek out a pre-entry level gig in a field where you can see yourself building a future. Get a firsthand peek at the life that could be yours.
If you picture majoring in hospitality, apply for work as a bellhop. Thinking of a career in medicine? Try data entry for a nearby family doctor. Dreams of stevedoring? Wander the docks of your nearest seaport offering up your services.
Or maybe just sign up with a temp agency. It’s probably a lot safer than wandering the docks. Whatever you do, don’t be snotty about it. If it’s a field in which you have genuine interest, take any job they offer you. There’s no gentle way to say this: you have no experience. Get some.
And when you do get that experience, you can look around and give some serious thought to your future profession. Maybe you’ll find that you don’t have the large hands or hearty spine required for stevedoring. That’s fine. You’ve just saved yourself four years of lectures on maritime law, shipping logistics, and anchor safety protocols.
On the other hand, perhaps a taste of life as a longshoreman has only made you hungry for more. If that’s the case, select your major, damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead.
2. Pimp Your Dorm Room
I’m just gonna come right out and admit this. I’m kind of a Target junkie. Like many Americans, I live within five miles of this retail nirvana and I manage to find an excuse to visit roughly three times a week. The shelves are just so colorful, and varied, and filled with things I don’t actually need but can almost kind of rationalize buying. I’m on a first-name basis with the lady at the return counter, although I admit that this is largely because she wears a nametag. It says Ruth.
Spend your summer making intermittent visits to the ‘big box’ stores in your vicinity. Sure, shopping can be materialistic, shallow and stupid, but it’s also fun and, in your case, necessary. You have an outhouse-sized dorm room to furnish, a wardrobe to assemble, and a ton of classroom essentials to stockpile.
Have some fun with it. Buy a bean-bag chair, get some of those multi-colored paperclips that are shaped like dogs and dinosaurs, buy a wood-carved wall-hanging bearing an inspirational slogan so you’re new dorm mates know right off the bat that you feel ways about stuff.
In addition to keeping you occupied during the hot months, furnishing your dorm is a great excuse to get in touch with your new roomie. Coordinate on your purchasing decisions. You don’t want to shell out $300 for a Roomba only to find that your new flat-mate already has one. Unless…residence hall robot wars! Okay, strike that. You should coordinate with your roommate so you both know to get Roombas. Take the next few months to train your Roomba for tactical combat.
And try to break your college shopping up into small doses throughout the summer. That way, you won’t have to drop a big bundle of money all at once. In addition to being fun and necessary, these back-to-school shopping trips are part of your personal education. Teach yourself how to manage a budget and (robot wars aside), learn how to distinguish between that which is necessary and that which you merely desire.
3. Hit the Road
There’s probably nothing more eye-opening, educational, or inspiring than travel. And there’s probably no better time to do it than this summer. For perhaps the last time in your life, you live within 10 miles of your closest friends. First college–and then life–will scatter your high school chums around the globe. So take advantage of this fleeting moment. Hop in a car with your buds and take off for parts unknown.
In the remaining months before each of you embarks on your own personal journey, share one last adventure together. America is a spectacular maze of highways, bridges, coastal routes, dirt roads, and footpaths. Get lost in it.
Find some weirdness. There’s plenty of it out there.
Did you know that there’s a shopping mall in Havre, Montana that overlooks a 20 foot pile of buffalo bones? Grab some Orange Julius and take in this sobering monument to frontier life.
Or, if you find yourself in Cherry Log, Georgia, stop by the Sasquatch Museum. This place is entirely dedicated to investigation of Bigfoot sightings throughout history. And if you’re unconvinced of the elusive creature’s existence, this museum has the world’s only real-life casting of Bigfoot’s butt-print. That should give you pause.
If you’re more of a thrill-seeker, make your way to Los Angeles and check out the bustling city’s iconic U.S. Bank Tower. They’ve just affixed a glass slide to the outside of the building, connecting the 70th floor to the 69th. This experience combines the playground whimsy of sliding with the pants-soiling terror of falling off a skyscraper.
Really, the paths to adventure in America are infinite. Meet colorful local characters. Behold buildings shaped like tea kettles and caterpillars. Drive through towns that are so sleepy as to be unnerving. Eat at a Waffle House in each of the contiguous 48 states.
Let this summer be a reminder that no matter what you learn in the classroom, there is no substitute for the real world.
4. Learn to Live
So you’ve been living with your folks your whole life. Mom washes your undergarments, dad takes out the garbage, and when you’re left to your own devices for dinner, all you really know how to do is dial and order.
Well, in just a few months, you’re going to be living largely on your own. In college, there’s nobody to cut the crusts off your sammiches. Growing up doesn’t happen overnight, over the summer, or even over four years of college. Learning how to be an adult is an ongoing process. (I’ll let you know when I’ve mastered it.) But you might as well get started now.
Consider a few skills that might come in handy once you’re out there on your own. On the subject of sammiches, how strong are your kitchen skills? Is your arsenal basically limited to the two or three food items that actually have their own buttons on your microwave? I’m not making fun. I subsisted on popcorn and mustard packets until I was 25. But you could save a lot of money (and lectures about caloric intake from your doctor) by learning and perfecting a handful of basic recipes over the course of the summer.
How about home repair? Do you know how to anchor a bracket into a wall, or alternately, patch up a hole that you created by improperly anchoring a bracket into a wall? A lot of the major chain hardware stores actually offer free instructional workshops on all sorts of home repair and building projects. If you’re not inclined to leave the house, there are videos on YouTube that provide step-by-step instructions for everything from wood staining to exterior stuccoing.
A major part of the college experience is developing viable life skills. So pick a few that interest you and get started over the summer. Take a financial planning seminar (and preempt years of post-collegiate credit repair). Take a self-defense class (never a bad set of skills to have at a tailgate party). Develop a sustainable fitness regimen (your first line of defense against the Freshman 15).
Like I said, you won’t become an adult overnight. But you will begin to refine skills that you can use in college, in life, and should the need arise, in the throes of a zombie apocalypse.
5. Loiter in the Book Store
One of the most important lessons you’ll learn while in college is how to take advantage of free stuff. From on-campus film screenings and Starbucks latte promotions to gym membership and French Club baguette giveaways, you’ll learn how to live well on a lean budget.
Get some practice in this summer by hanging out at the book store. This is one of the few places in the world where a teenager can chill for hours without spending a dime or being asked to leave. If you have a dime, a lot of book stores have coffee shops built right in. Grab yourself a caffeinated beverage and nurse it for as long as it takes you to read Atlas Shrugged.
There are a few benefits to hanging out in a coffee shop. They typically play tolerable music. People are usually pretty quiet. And they generally smell pretty good (like java, fresh pulp and, for some reason, new car).
Of course, the biggest benefit is that you pretty much have limitless reading material at your fingertips. And really, every once in a while, you should buy a book just to be polite. But as long as you’re saving up for college, and teaching yourself how to freeload, consider the book store a friendly starting point.
6. Work at a Camp
Working at a camp is kind of different than getting a job, particularly because the pay will be terrible. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the children, and the experience, and in your case, the inbuilt opportunity for constant outdoor recreation.
The great thing about working at a camp is that there are countless different roles to fill. A camp is like a tiny little town, complete with a first aid unit, kitchen staff, sports faculty, and maintenance crew. Not sure you’re counselor material? What about life-guarding, or canoe-wrangling, or archery instruction.
There are all kinds of great lessons to be learned about responsibility, teamwork, survival, and organization when you spend your summer in a mosquito-ridden, swamp-adjacent cabin. But there’s another dimension to this. In a way, college is a lot like summer camp. Communal living; bad food; rampant fraternizing with the opposite sex. Spending the summer at camp is great practice for college, and if you think a cabin of 9-year-olds is vastly different than a resident wing of freshmen, you’re in for a surprise.
Beyond all of this, of course, summer camp represents a chance to have a little bit of fun before you’re off to school. Swim in the lake, sleep under the stars, and sweat in places you didn’t know existed. Get paid (not much) to play.
7. Get Current
If your primary source for real-world events has the word “Kardashian” in its title, now’s the time to start brushing up on some real news. Now that you’re starting college, so much of your education will be gleaned from the world around you. From the swirling cesspool of American politics to the roiling ocean of global affairs, from cutting edge scientific innovation to wanton environmental degradation, from mass culture phenomena to artistic revolution, life is happening all around you.
Now that you’ve graduated from the insulated curricula and context of high school, prepare for a learning experience that extends far beyond the walls of the classroom. Your generation will be charged with the modest responsibility of saving the world. No pressure, right?
You face real and terrifying challenges like global climate change, racial discord, gun violence, international terrorism, and, yes, of course, the Kardashians. Become knowledgeable on these challenges. Know what you’re up against. Become better informed about places you’ve never been, people you’ve never met, and perspectives you’ve never considered. Seek balance by pursuing multiple news sources in print, on television, and online.
Spend this summer not just reading the news, but learning how to read the news. Know your sources, recognize biases, and get to know writers, both those who’s work moves you and those who’s ideas you find repulsive. Take these next few months to become absorbed in the everyday drama unfolding in faraway places or in your own community.
The world is in a constant state of flux. If you don’t pay attention, everything around you could change. Don’t be the last to know. Believe me, I was the last guy to find out about Pokemon Go and I feel pretty left out. Point is, if you hope to make a positive difference in the world after you graduate, begin your college experience by getting to know said world a little better.
The great thing about volunteering is that most places will be more than happy to take you up on the offer for free labor. Naturally, you’ll want to choose an opportunity where you can make a positive difference, whether it is to the benefit of children, the elderly, or even just your own community. Of course, on top of helping others, you get the intrinsic reward of doing something nice, the personal growth that comes from a new experience, and a task-oriented set of responsibilities to insulate you from boredom.
If you enjoy working with people, volunteer your time at a nearby retirement home. If it happens to be your grandmother’s retirement home, bonus! You have a tremendous opportunity to bring company and comfort to those in need, not to mention the opportunity to hear amazing stories about piloting fighter jets during the Korean War, riding the trolley to school, and paying a nickel for admission to a Brooklyn Dodgers game. Seniors are our best link to that which came before us. Your summer of volunteering could also be an illuminating history lesson. And because it takes place largely indoors, this is a great way to spend the warm months if you have an aversion to the heat.
If you’d prefer not to spend the summer indoors, there are countless other ways to volunteer your time, from community gardening and park clean-up to homeless food drives and Habitat For Humanity.
Take the time to improve life for those around you. You might be surprised at how much it improves your own life.
9. Become Multilingual
Our college campuses are increasingly multicultural. So too is the professional world into which you will graduate. Embrace this growing diversity–and make yourself a more employable commodity–by dedicating the summer months to achieving multilingualism.
Take the initial steps to teach yourself a language, either by enrolling in local courses, by purchasing a product like Rosetta Stone, or by simply employing one of the many free online language resources currently in circulation.
There are all kinds of good reasons to learn another language. Better prepare yourself for a profession in which international collaboration is commonplace. Become a more culturally well-rounded individual. Enjoy certain foreign films without having to read the subtitles. Just for a change of pace, assemble a piece of IKEA furniture using one of the non-English pages from your instruction manual.
If you’re having a tough time deciding which language to take up, try basing it on a country you’d like to eventually visit. Learning a new language could be the first step toward a college study abroad program. And if your school does offer such an opportunity, you would be wise to take it. There are few better cures to boredom than the anticipation of something exciting. Certainly, an overseas trip to a place where you can order a cup of coffee in the native tongue qualifies as something exciting.
10. Clean Up Your Social Media Presence
I’m not suggesting that all of your wacky antics are behind you now that you’re in college. Quite the contrary. Your antics will be many in the coming four years. But now, you’ll also be building an online reputation, one that could come back to haunt you if not cultivated and curated properly.
Nobody’s doing a background check on you now, but that will change when you start applying for internships. Get ahead of it this summer. Delete that old, ill-advised, oversharing Facebook post from the night your girlfriend dumped you. Ask your buds to remove that pic of you doing something unspeakable to the syrup carafe at an International House of Pancakes. And for God’s sakes, ask your cousin to take down that shot of you all dressed up for a Dungeon & Dragons theme party back in the 7th grade. That last one shouldn’t cost you a job, but it certainly won’t help either.
Part of becoming an adult is recognizing that you have many great years ahead of you, years in which your web history will follow you like the raincoat guy from “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Spend the next few months scrolling back in search of forensic evidence that might lead somebody to believe you lack judgement, sanity, or even just basic human decency. I’m not saying you lack any of these things, but sometimes a photo or posting taken out of context can suggest otherwise.
Give your online presence a good scrubbing now and you’ll have a lot less explaining to do when it actually matters.
And of course, because this is still summer vacation, have a great time. Hit the beach, grill some stuff, enjoy a beverage with an umbrella in it, stay out late on a weeknight. Make the most of every free minute. Once school gets started, that free minute will be much harder to come by.
Best of luck this fall!