Summer is upon us. Long, lazy days at the pool, barbeques, beers, suntans…. Um, no, not if you’re a graduate student or planning to be one. No, for you, young gra-(duate student)-sshopper, summer is for work.
What kind of work, you ask? That’s a good question. And there are several possible answers. Here are some, in no particular order:
Plan 1: Enroll in summer classes and get some credits out of the way.
Plan 2: Enroll in summer research/independent study credits and work on an independent research/writing project.
Plan 3: Work to save money for graduate school.
Plan 4: Get into an internship or summer research program off campus that provides hands-on training in a related field.
All of these are excellent options, and everyone will have a different set of personal circumstances (budget, family obligations, etc.) that will influence their choices.
But overall, Plan 1 may be relatively short term thinking, in terms of preparation for getting into and out of the best graduate school programs with the best funding package. To achieve that, you need to stand out with independent research experience and ideally, a published paper to your name. Plans 2 and 4 are your best bet to achieve that.
Similarly, Plan 3 is a commendable and responsible choice, and it is never wrong to save money. But by the same token, if you focus your energies on Plans 2 or 4, it MAY transpire that your graduate school years are completely funded by generous fellowships, leading ultimately to an excellent full-time job.
When I advise students, one of the primary points I try to drive home is that you should always EXPECT and AIM FOR and do everything possible to PREPARE FOR an abundantly-funded graduate school experience.
In other words, do NOT start out expecting and planning to painstakingly scrape through graduate school with a punishing cycle of part time work and loans.
This initial mindset may play a large role in which of the four summer plans above that you choose. While a summer job can definitely help you put a little money away, that money will not go far in covering graduate school expenses. A summer internship or research project, while possibly costing more up front, may well make you competitive for a top-tier funding package at your ideal graduate program.
None of these outcomes is guaranteed of course! There is always risk in every choice. But with careful advising, especially consulting with potential advisors and directors of graduate study at the programs you most want to enter, you can gather the information to make the best informed choice.