Free at last! After months of studying, eating cafeteria lunches and passing notes, the unstructured bliss of summer is finally upon us. While the season is the ideal time to recharge your batteries (and maybe get a little sun), a well-executed plan can transform a relaxing summer into a successful start the following school year.

Summer jobs have been immortalized in music and film as nostalgic, coming-of-age experiences akin to attending school dances and going on spring break adventures. However, forethought in the job hunt can help you fund more than just your summer fun and even set you up for your future career. When it comes to applying, you can’t necessarily be picky – but you can be precise.

Retail stores and chain restaurants often offer scholarship programs or tuition assistance to their employees. Research what benefits an employer offers before applying and you may have more to look forward to than just your summer spending money. Not interested in settling into one job for the entire summer? Sign up with a temp agency (SelectStaffing and Randstad catalogue placement opportunities nationwide) and experience numerous work environments and meet a variety of people to build up your resume and your networking pool.

You can also get a head start on your career by applying to jobs that are in the field you’re considering or pursuing. Future teachers can gain experience by working in child care, while aspiring medical professionals can get an advantage from spending time in a retirement community.

If you’re in the position to start internships, summer is a great opportunity to get face-time with future employers. Whether it’s a paid internship or solely for school credit, many employers utilize the talents of young, eager students, giving them workplace skills while building relationships that could potentially lead to employment. Talk to friends, family and professors when you’re deciding where to apply in addition to researching top companies or firms in your field. (Websites like and are good for internship searches.) Trade publications are also a good place to start when it comes to finding progress employers in specific areas.

Once you’re in the door at a company, it’s your time to shine and make a lasting impression on your co-workers and supervisors. Don’t let age differences deter you from building friendships with everyone you encounter. You never know who will have a lead on an internship or even a post-college job.

If you’re unable to intern until the fall semester, this is also an ideal time to evaluate your options for the school year. Many companies will begin accepting applications mid-summer and appreciate an applicant who is ahead of the crowd.

Summer may be the time to get ahead in your career, but let’s not forget that it’s also time to relax. Take time to yourself, see your friends, and enjoy your vacation. Work is important but if you run yourself too hard over the summer, you won’t be reenergized when you return to school in the fall. Balance is the key to making the most of your break.