If you’re going straight from high school to college, the experience can be a bit jarring at first.
Not only does living on campus feel a lot different than being at home, but the structure of college classes and personal life is much different than what you’re used to in high school.
However, there’s still one thing that can be nearly identical – summer break. But how long is summer break in college, and is it the same? Let’s find out.
If you’re attending a college with a summer break, it will usually last from late May/early June to late August/early September. In many cases, the fall semester will start after Labor Day, but not always. Also, many colleges will offer a summer semester if you want to take additional classes or shorten the time it will take to graduate.
Unlike public schools that all operate on the same system (depending on which county you live in), colleges will set their own dates and standards.
So, some colleges may go on summer break in May, while others start in June.
Some universities and colleges (usually trade schools) will have classes all year round, with short one- to three-week breaks between semesters.
Overall, your college experience will likely be different than someone who attends a different school, particularly if they’re in another state or county.
However, no matter what, you can expect at least some kind of summer break, even if it’s just a few weeks between semesters.
A Brief History of the Summer School Break
It seems like such a staple of modern society, but when you really think about it, why do schools take a break during the summer? Jobs don’t offer a similar vacation period, so why do students get a few months off during the middle of the year?
You may have heard the legend that it all dates back to the olden days of Yore when most children worked on family farms. The story goes that summer break was necessary so these child laborers could help their families on the farm during the most crucial part of the year for farming.
Then, after the fall harvest, the kids would return to their schoolhouses, ready to take a break from the manual chores they had to perform all summer long.
While that story may sound neat and tidy, it’s actually far from the truth. There are a few problems with it, such as:
For much of modern life in the United States, most people did not work or live on farms. So, the idea that a majority of students would have to go home to help plow fields and milk cows doesn’t make sense.
Cities started to grow and proliferate in the 1800s, so many kids would have lived in urban areas, not rural farmlands.
Secondly, the two crucial seasons for farming are spring and fall. Spring is when the fields are planted, and fall is when they’re harvested. So, even if the majority of schoolchildren worked on farms, they would have little to do during the hottest months of the year.
In fact, when farming was far more localized, it seems that kids would attend school during the summer and take breaks during the spring and fall to help their families out.
So, when you really think about it, the story of “summer is for farming” doesn’t make much sense at all. However, what does make sense is that summer is hot and, in the days before air conditioning, school was not mandatory.
As cities expanded and grew, they became hotter. Concrete, glass, and masonry do a really good job of absorbing and reflecting heat, meaning that these urban areas would be much hotter than the cooler, breezier rural and suburban areas.
So, during the summer, kids would opt out of going to school, choosing instead to try to keep cool at home.
Ironically, it turns out that the urbanization of the country is what led to the standard summer break. As temperatures soared, attendance plummeted, and the schools decided that they were fighting a losing battle.
While air conditioning would eventually come along and allow students and faculty to learn in optimal temperatures, the expectation was already set.
At the same time, summer vacations started to become the norm, as workers from all walks of life wanted a chance to escape the heat and head to cooler climates or cities. Once advertisers took advantage of this trend, the “summer break” we all know and love (or loathe) was cemented in modern history.
College Breaks vs. High School Breaks
Although the break period is pretty similar between high school and college, the expectations are much different for students during summer.
During the first few years of high school, students are too young to find a job but too old to need a babysitter, so they’ll usually spend their days lying around the house, snacking, and napping the time away.
Even as high schoolers get old enough to have jobs, there’s far less of an expectation to get one in modern times. Decades ago, high schoolers would get jobs to pay for cars and hang out with friends.
These days, though, cars are much more expensive, and many parents would not feel comfortable with having their teenagers go out on the town by themselves. So, getting a job is more of a luxury than it was before.
At the college level, however, students are technically adults already, so they need to take advantage of their time off from their studies. While summer break can offer a chance to relax and unwind, it’s also a prime opportunity to search for internships and other jobs related to their field of choice.
In other instances, college students may want to get ahead on their classes and shorten the time necessary to graduate.
With increased competition across many fields, graduates have to take advantage of any opportunity they find. So, if they can leave college a few months before their peers, they’ll be able to find more job opportunities and get more experience.
Overall, because college is the last stage of schooling before “real life” hits, it’s a time when students are expected to do more to prepare themselves for entering the workforce. While high school summers could be spent relaxing and doing nothing for days or weeks on end, college summers are often more productive.
Do All Colleges Have Summer Breaks?
The short answer is no; not all colleges have summer breaks. Additionally, some colleges may offer optional summer classes during this break for students who don’t want to pause their studies.
Typically, summer semesters are shorter, meaning the classes are longer, but they can also be valuable for getting credits for graduation.
Some colleges have classes all year round, meaning the year is divided into four equal parts with small breaks in between. In this case, there is a “summer break,” but it’s not necessarily longer than any other break during the year.
Typically, each break is between one to three weeks, with the longest ones happening in summer and winter.
Other Breaks During the College School Year
Regardless of the college you attend, classes are broken down into sections. The most common option is a semester, which lasts about 15 weeks. There are only two semesters during a school year, with breaks between them.
However, colleges will also have other breaks in the middle of a semester, usually centered around a season or a holiday. For example, spring break occurs at the end of March or the beginning of April, and it typically lasts a week.
Similarly, colleges may have a fall break in November so students can attend Thanksgiving celebrations with their families.
These breaks are much different than the ones at the end of a semester because students return to the same classes once the break is over. After a semester, students have to sign up for different classes to attend at the beginning of the next semester.
For year-round colleges, classes may go for about ten weeks at a time, with small breaks in between. Because these periods are shorter, breaks will typically happen at the end of a “module.”
So, instead of a spring break in the middle of a semester, the break would be between modules, meaning students have new classes to attend at the end of the break.
What to Do During Summer Break in College
Whether you’re attending a two-year or four-year college, summer is a time to start planning your future prospects for after graduation. This is especially true for junior and senior years, as you’re about to enter the workforce full-time.
Fortunately, being an adult means you have much more flexibility regarding what you can do during the summer break. Since you no longer need permission from your parents, you’re free to make decisions about how you spend your time.
That said, if you want to be productive and come out of the break with a new skill set or knowledge base, here are the things you should do:
Start an Internship
Many companies offer internships for college students because they’re a win-win for everyone involved.
While an unpaid internship can be a struggle (unless your bills are covered by family), it can still pay dividends later on. For the company, they get assistance with various tasks around the office. For the interns, they receive valuable hands-on experience and a foot in the door at a company they may want to work for after graduation.
Paid internships are often better for a couple of reasons. First, you can make money to pay bills or to save for items you really want. Second, companies that offer paid internships are often more willing to move interns into full-time positions.
Because the company is investing money into you, they’re more willing to train you in valuable positions that you can do later on.
Unfortunately, many unpaid internships come with menial tasks and “grunt work” that may or may not translate to a paid position. So, it’s imperative to research different internship options and compare them before signing up.
The goal is to get real-world experience, not make coffee runs for executives and staff members.
Get a Summer Job
Many colleges are close to or in “resort towns,” so named because they’re full of tourist attractions and resorts to accommodate visitors from around the world. So, as college breaks for the summer, many hospitality positions will open up as summer is their busy season.
While these jobs may not be related to your academic major, they can still help pay the bills and give you experience for a resume.
Also, many jobs can impart valuable insights and wisdom, even if they’re not within your desired field.
For example, you can learn how to work in a team, how to manage customers or clients, and how to interact with supervisors and managers. These skills are universal and can translate to any job, no matter how skilled they may be.
Take Summer Courses
While it’s tempting to kick back during the summer break, this is also a time when you could be learning and advancing your college career.
As we mentioned, most fields have intense competition, so the faster you can learn the right skills and enter the workforce, the better off you’ll be compared to your classmates.
Additionally, you can take summer courses that are not part of your major but can still impart valuable information.
For example, maybe you can take trade classes so you can start your own business after graduation. Or, perhaps you can study creative electives to boost your creative side and use that for problem-solving skills on the job.
Volunteer at a Local Charity
Although internships can usually be related to your target field, they can also be somewhat hit or miss, depending on your major and the companies offering them.
One way to volunteer your time and get something valuable out of it is to work for a charity over the summer.
The primary benefit of working for a local charity is that there’s a lot of room for advancement within the organization. So, if you’re interested in starting a business or becoming an executive, you can take advantage of this experience and use it for your professional career.
Not only that, but volunteering to help others is extremely rewarding and can boost your confidence. From there, you can leverage those skills and the added self-esteem to tackle more challenges in your personal and professional life.
Volunteering can yield incredible benefits if you look at it as an opportunity, not a chore.