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Staying Busy Over Winter Break — 7 Ideas for Your Active College Student

Alyssa Abel

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When your children were young, you only had to worry about keeping them occupied for a week or so over winter vacation. It's different for college students, many of whom have a month or more of free time to fill over winter break.

Some students get bored with all this free time. Because of the pandemic, they may not have as many options for activities. They may feel lonely, too, if it's hard to reconnect with old high school friends or they miss their college friends.

But a nice long interterm break doesn’t have to mean sitting around the house. In fact, the season offers the perfect opportunity to advance their future careers, supplement their college classes or just adopt better habits.

Here are seven suggestions for beating the winter break boredom blues.

1. Tidy Up and Organize

Chances are, your student didn't think much about putting things in order after finals. They likely tossed everything in their luggage and enjoyed time relaxing with friends before heading home. That makes now the perfect time to clean out their backpack and invest in a planner for next semester.

The cost of textbooks continues to rise, and many campus bookstores offer little in terms of returns. You student can use this time to sell their old books for the most cash by listing them on multiple sites. They won't recoup the full value of their investment, but they can get a jumpstart on saving for the spring.

They can also pre-order textbooks and materials for next term’s classes.

2. Get Entrepreneurial

One of the top characteristics employers seek in new talent is the ability to create innovative solutions to existing problems. Your student can demonstrate their "can-do" spirit by trying their hand at a small business over winter break.

This doesn’t have to mean starting the next Facebook; even a modest venture will provide your student with a unique challenge. If they love working with children or are pursuing a teaching degree, they might start a babysitting service. Do they have an artistic spirit? Suggest they create small art pieces or seasonal crafts using leftover holiday castoffs and sell them on Etsy

3. Find Temporary Work

The winter season is busy for many employers. Retailers need extra assistance not only before the holidays but also afterward to help with returns. Delivery services need extra people to get packages to doorsteps on time.

Even during the pandemic, part-time jobs are available and they accomplish goals besides keeping students busy. Your student can pad their resume and gain valuable soft skills. They can also save money for books and necessary expenses in the spring.

4. Adopt a New Nutrition and Exercise Plan

College life gets hectic, and it's easier to grab a slice of pizza in the food court between classes than to focus on healthy meals. If your returning freshman gained the dreaded 15, they might feel self-conscious or less healthy than they were before the semester started. Their free time during winter break makes this a great opportunity to make more healthy choices.

Inspire them to focus on bodyweight exercises (no equipment required) they can perform in their dorm room, or encourage them to learn how to prepare nutritious meals they can grab and go when things get busy again. If they have a slow cooker, microwave or toaster oven, they don't need a full kitchen to whip up something delicious and healthy.

Making a health plan gives them a winter break goal and also introduces habits they can take back to school.

5. Volunteer

Volunteering looks fabulous on a resume, especially if your college student doesn't have much work experience and if they make a long-term commitment. It shows employers they’re willing to work for a cause greater than themselves. You can't put a price tag on this intrinsic motivation.

Even a short-term volunteering commitment can be meaningful. If your student enjoys animals, local shelters always need people to walk dogs and socialize cats. If they love helping people, many senior centers and organizations that serve the homeless find themselves short-staffed after the holiday rush dies down.

During the pandemic, many volunteer opportunities are virtual. Your student might organize a drive to collect food, clothing or other needed supplies. Look online together to see where the need is greatest in your community.

6. Schedule Future Classes

Students who want to stay in academic mode for at least part of winter break have plenty of options to supplement their coursework. Many universities offer interterm/intersession classes, research study opportunities or for-credit trips abroad between semesters. Although it’s probably too late to take a winter class this year, it’s never too early to start planning for spring and summer break — or even next winter.

If your student is interested in taking an extra class or participating in a faculty-led trip, the holidays are a great time to start exploring future options, filling out applications and signing up for opportunities — so they’ll never be bored on break again.

Your student may also want to take a free online course in a subject that interests them, or build a new skill set.

7. Dip their Toe into a Potential Career

If your student is looking into a specific career, changing their major, or craving insights into their professional pathway, winter break offers a perfect opportunity to search for internships for the following semester or this summer.

At the same time, your student can take advantage of the current winter break by finding short-term employment opportunity. Whether they accompany a family friend to their office for a day or find a week-long job shadow at the local hospital, your student can score a valuable professional and educational experience during their break.

Winter break activities will keep your student energized.

Away from the stimulation of campus life for nearly a month, your student might start to get a bit bored — but by setting a professional, academic or personal goal and putting some time and energy into it over break, they can put their down time to good use and set themselves up for a successful spring.

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Alyssa Abel is an education writer and blogger with a focus on higher education. Read more of her work for students, educators and parents on her website,
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