12 Great Ways to Spend the Summer Before University
There are very few occasions in life when you’re an adult, with more than a month of no commitments, and near-certainty about your plans for the next three years of your life. The summer before university is one of these very rare times; it could well be that you won’t get to experience this kind of freedom coupled with this kind of stability until your retirement (and even then, there are no guarantees). So without putting on too much pressure, it’s best to make the most of it.
What that looks like will differ from person to person. Some choose to spend the summer forging connections with friends who are moving away; others, earning money so their student loan won’t be as frighteningly large, or at least they’ll have fewer meals that are just ramen or beans on toast. For others still, it’s about building up skills that will be valuable in future. Whatever your priorities here, here are our top tips for turning them into a reality – and making the summer before university one that you’ll remember long into the future.
1. Travel with your friends
Travelling with friends is a classic pre-university activity, and for good reason; these are people you’re close to who you might well struggle to stay in touch with in future, so it makes sense to have one last hurrah. If that can involve some sun, sea and sand, so much the better. We’ve written about possible summer travel destinations for students before, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to international travel, you can have a lot of fun staying in the country and going camping as well, especially if there’s someone among your friend group who has a car and is willing to drive you to see the sights. What matters is making some memories and cementing those friendships that are most important to you before they go through the strain of everyone being scattered to the four winds as they start university. Just make sure that you’re back in time for results day!
2. Attend a summer school
After the long, hard journey of your final years of school, crowned by end-of-year exams, it can be odd to spend a summer entirely outside of academic life. At the same time, you’re probably too exhausted from all that work to study entirely independently (though some people do choose to look up their university reading list and make a start before their first term). A happy compromise can be attending a summer school. After a period when all of your studying has been exam-related, it can be wonderful to remind yourself of the joys of learning for learning’s sake, and the lively, positive atmosphere of a summer school is the perfect setting. You might choose a course that leads directly into your university studies, or try out something you’ve never studied before. Outside of lessons, there’ll be a plethora of excursions and activities, so you can keep your brain active while having a bit of a holiday too.
3. Learn new life skills
The summer before university is a period when, as we’ve noted, you’ll have a lot of free time – possibly more than you’ve enjoyed for a while. Though it’s tempting to spend three months getting reacquainted with your Netflix subscription and your XBox, you might well not have such a good opportunity to learn life skills for a while. The obvious skill is learning to drive – you could even take an intensive course and pass your test after just a week or two of tuition, rather than having to go through months of hour-long lessons squeezed in whenever you have time to spare. But there are plenty of other skills you might want to learn, whether that’s cooking, cleaning, ironing a shirt, using a sewing machine, fixing a bike puncture, assembling a flat-pack or any of the other skills you find yourself needing as a newly minted adult.
4. Learn a new skill for fun
Not all skills that you might spend the summer (or some of it, at least) learning have to be serious ones that you think could be important to master for your forthcoming independent adult life. It’s also worth noting that every year thousands of students go off to university not knowing how to wash a cast-iron pan, sew on a button, make a soufflé or whatever other skills you might be lacking, and with the help of phone calls to family members and instructional YouTube videos, they all muddle through. This summer is also a great opportunity to learn skills that are not so vital. Maybe you’ve always wanted to have an assortment of origami patterns memorised, or to be able to juggle, or to knit. Now is the time to learn, especially if you’re going to be moving away from a friend or family member who is willing to teach you.
5. Spend time with your family
On which note, students about to leave for university usually think of prioritising spending time with friends who they won’t see as often when they move away, but they might not think of family members. The blog Wait But Why has a particularly stark visualisation of this, the writer noting that of all the time he would probably spend with his parents in his life, 90+% of it had already happened by the time he left secondary school. When you see your family members all the time, you might well not think there’s a need to make the most of your time together, but if you’re moving away, you may well find that you miss them more than you expect. Just as with your friends, now is the time to make some happy memories.
6. Get to know some other freshers
One of the great things about the modern world is that you don’t need to wait until you arrive at university to start making friends there. For pretty much every university, there are student forums and freshers’ social media pages that you can get involved with to make contact with other people on your course, at your college or in your student accommodation. While chatting to people you don’t know online can be awkward, it can be reassuring to know that when you arrive at your new university, there’ll be some friendly faces. In some cases, these will turn into enduring friendships when you get to know each other in real life; in others, all they’ll provide is someone to hang out with in the first couple of days of freshers’ week. Either way, taking a bit of time to get to know them is definitely worth the effort.
7. Get some exercise
You may well already have heard of the concept of the “Freshers’ 15” – that’s the 15 pounds that people gain in the first year of university, as a result of missing out on their pre-university exercise regime and eating a lot more ready meals, takeaways, and free student union pizza than they might have been used to. It’s a phenomenon that’s exaggerated, but there’s definitely some truth to the idea that people’s lifestyles become less healthy when they go to university. As a result, if you’d always planned to get in shape, master chin-ups or run a 10k in under an hour – but hadn’t been able to due to the pressures of the final year of school – it’s a lot easier to work on that in the summer before university than once you arrive.
8. Take lots of photos
It probably goes without saying but even if you are confident, outgoing, and end up having the best possible university experience, there will still be times when you feel a little homesick and in need of comforting. Normally the best solution to this is to reach out to a friend or family member, but there will be times when that’s not appropriate (such as the early hours of the morning). Having photos of family, friends and home can be comforting at these times, reminding yourself of the good times you’ve shared in the past and those still to come. And if that homesickness never arrives, it can still make your student accommodation feel that bit more cosy and homey to have meaningful photos on the walls – not to mention being a good conversation starter when you invite your new friends over.
9. Get your room ready for going away
Coming back to your childhood bedroom after your first term away at university can result in unhappy surprises. Plenty of students have come home to find that their room hasn’t been as untouched as they’d hoped – that younger siblings have borrowed their clothes or taken their books, that items they’d planned to keep have been recycled, or in some cases, that everything they’d left behind is now in storage in the attic, and their room converted into a home office or gym. The first step is to have a conversation with your parents about the things you’re leaving behind and their plans for your room. Then make sure that everything you want untouched is stored in a way that enables this. While this can be a chore, it can also be a fun trip down memory lane as you sort through old things.
10. Make the most of your hometown
Another side effect of going away to your university is that you won’t be seeing your hometown for a while. Whether that thought makes you happy or sad, there are likely to be some things about your hometown that you’ll miss: perhaps a great route for a run, perhaps a brunch place where they poach the eggs just right, perhaps a cinema where you have happy memories of hanging out with friends. Whatever it may be, do take the time to really enjoy it while you still have the chance. Of course, this is easily combined with spending quality time with friends and family members too.
11. Get a job
People’s finances on going to university vary considerably. You might have some support from parents or other family members; you might have been saving up from a weekend job for years; you might be entitled to grants, bursaries or scholarships; you might be taking out a loan that you’ll pay off once you’re in full-time work; or it might be some combination of the above. It’s unlikely that any job you get in the summer before university will make much of a financial difference, but it can be satisfying to have money in your bank account that you earned personally, not to mention that it can be good to begin fleshing out your CV. If you can, look for a job that’s full-time for a short period (tourism and agriculture can be particularly good for this) rather than something that’s part-time over a longer period, so that you’ll have some of your summer to enjoy without working. If money really isn’t a priority, you could also look into work experience and internships. Alternatively, there are working holidays where you can have fun and get paid for your efforts.
12. Volunteer for something worthwhile
Do you want to go to university feeling like you’ve spent your summer doing something good – not just for yourself, but for others? You might want to look into volunteering. There are typically overseas volunteering options if you want to combine volunteering with travel (though do make sure to look for a reputable provider – some overseas volunteering does more harm than good), but there are undoubtedly opportunities in or near your hometown as well. If you have an eye for retail, especially fashion, charity shops are always on the lookout for volunteers. Or if you’re an animal lover, a local cat or dog sanctuary might welcome you as a dog-walker or to take on other volunteer tasks. Beyond this, there’s support for the elderly, for refugees, for the homeless, at food banks – in other words, more volunteering opportunities than you might ever have thought of, so you can look for a cause that’s important to you. They’d be very grateful for your time.