After a long school year full of studying, tests, and other school work, it's tempting to want to take the summer off. Unfortunately, that would be a huge mistake. For a college student, summer break is a huge opportunity that can make life after college easier.

It's OK to take some days at the beach or even to take a few weeks off. Unless you go into teaching, you won't be getting summers off after you graduate, so take a little time for fun.

In addition to doing that, however, you also should use the time to invest in your future. Lay the groundwork needed to meet people and gain experiences that will ultimately get you a job.

A couple relaxes on the beach.

It's fine to take some time to relax, but you also need to be productive. Image source: Getty Images.

Get job experience

Maurie Backman: I never took a summer off during college, nor did I ever take an easy job that allowed me to work a light schedule and spend the rest of my time on the beach. Rather, I pushed myself to spend my summers earning money and getting solid office experience that would put me in a better position to get hired after college.

One summer, I worked as a customer service rep. It was horrible, but my coworkers were great and the money was better than what my friends were making waiting tables. Another summer, I held down an 80-hour-a-week schedule that not only paid for my entire senior year of college but taught me some valuable skills that would eventually lead to full-time employment once I graduated.

Tempting as it may be to kick back and relax during the summer, if you have an extended break ahead of you, there's a real opportunity to set yourself up financially and career-wise. It doesn't really matter what sort of job you do as long as you gain some nice experience to put on your resume. You'll be more than grateful for it down the line -- especially when your friends who didn't work are struggling through their post-college job searches and you're getting offers left and right.

Explore careers 

Selena Maranjian: Sure, when the year's last semester ends, you can just get a summer job. But consider spending the summer focused on exploring possible careers. You can certainly combine those two missions if you can nab a summer job in a field where you think you'd want to work after school. But if not, and if you can do without the income, consider volunteering in your field of interest. Or tack on a volunteer gig on top of a regular money-earning summer job. 

If you're interested in medicine, for example, you might volunteer at a hospital, where you can learn about various professions in the field and how things work. If you're interested in law, maybe you can offer your services, pro bono, to a local law firm, in order to gain some insights and experience. Want a career in business? You might snag an internship at a local company or if need, offer to volunteer there, perhaps, for example, doing research for the marketing department.  

For best results, start thinking about how you'll spend your summer early. In the spring, make the most of your college's career planning or job placement office. Work your school's alumni network, seeking out alums who are in your field of interest or who live near you. Talk to lots of people -- even your friends' parents and your parents' friends, gathering information about all their various careers. You might stumble upon a career that you never thought of that sounds particularly appealing. You might even end up with a mentor -- or at least some connections that could be handy later.  

Do research and reading into various possible careers in the summer, too, when you're not bogged down with your regular academic studies. It's easy to forget when you're in college that you're not just taking courses and socializing, you're there in large part to prepare for your working life.

Build your network

Daniel B. Kline: In many fields, it's not about your grade point average or even what you learned. Instead, you need connections to get started and it's never too early to start making those.

You can and should spend some of your summer building a network. That sounds difficult, but it can be easy if you take a measured approach.

First, identify companies you would like to work at. Once you have done that reach out to people who work there explaining that you are a college student looking to enter the field. It's OK to contact human resources or to email specific people if you can find that information.

Work every angle you can. Use social media to let people know what your chosen profession is and ask if anyone can make any introductions. Look for industry events and conferences. Many offer reduced rates for college students.

Basically, get yourself out there. If you meet people and keep in touch, those contacts may be the key to getting hired when you enter the job market.

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