How to encourage your student's career development over the summer

Career Administrator

Just like that, the academic year has wrapped up and summer break has commenced. With more downtime, students can leverage summer breaks to clarify professional goals and gain professional skills and experiences through engaging in career-related and experiential learning activities. As your student moves forward with their summer plans, consider these three tips from the Career Center for engaging your student in their career development over the summer.

Encourage New Experiences

Gaining various work and professional experience throughout their time as an undergraduate is critical to ensuring that your student has a smooth transition upon graduation.  Although the summer internship tends to be the more common approach to gaining professional experience during the summer months, students have the opportunity to gain experience through a variety of avenues including: externships, volunteer work, summer jobs, job shadowing, and side projects. Your students' exposure to a variety of experiences will help them to better understand the world of work and further clarify the alignment with their personal values, interests, and skills. 


If your student has an internship or summer experience, consider working with them to maximize their summer experience and develop next steps for after the internship. Successful interns understand their employer's expectations and set to exceed these and more by setting goals and maintaining a focus on self-learning. In this process, you can support your student as they develop goals for the experience and reflect on the value of the internship to their career development. 

Other Opportunities

An internship is an excellent way to gain work experience and connections, but it’s not the only option for a productive summer experience. If your student does not have a structured internship lined up for the summer, work with them to brainstorm additional opportunities to gain new experiences over break and discuss the value of an alternative approach to gaining experiences. 

  • Summer Job: A short-term job, whether full- or part-time, offers money, work experience, and flexibility. Try to seek out a job that aligns with your interests and goals: for example, if you’re a drama student, you might work as a counselor at a drama summer camp. But even jobs in fields like retail or food service can help you build transferable skills such as customer service, teamwork, and professionalism.
  • Volunteering: Volunteering enables you to give back to your community, gain work experience in a low-key environment, and build contacts that may be useful to your future career steps. And because many organizations are happy for all the help they can get, volunteer positions often just have you sign up, instead of requiring you to go through a full application process. You can seek out structured volunteer programs or just contact local community organizations to learn about their needs.
  • Research: Doing research is a fantastic way to form relationships with academics, build your resume, gain in-depth experience in your academic field, and prepare for graduate school. Find out if professors in your academic department are looking for summer research assistants. You can also search for research opportunities through a more structured program, such as the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates. Your professors and academic advisors are great resources for discovering and pursuing research opportunities.
  • Summer Classes: UVA offers a variety of summer classes that can help you knock out requirements, make progress toward your degree, and learn about topics you wouldn’t normally have the chance to study. Plus, taking a summer class in Charlottesville allows you to explore and enjoy the town when it’s not crowded with students.
  • Travel: There are many ways to see the world, whether travel with your family, volunteer on a service trip, backpack or road trip with friends, or travel through a structured program for students. Whichever form of travel fits your style (and budget), travelling can provide you with global experiences, cultural immersion, a chance to flex your foreign language skills, and an opportunity for enormous personal growth. And you don’t have to go far - even exploring a part of your home state you usually drive past can be a valuable travel experience.

Explore additional ideas: No Internship? No Problem! Alternative Summer Experiences

Help Your Student Reflect

Talking with your student about their vision for life and career post-graduation can be helpful as they are sorting out their ideas and next steps in their career development. Encourage your student to reflect on and revisit their values, interests, and skills as they make upcoming career-related decisions like choosing a major, joining a student club, or finding an internship.

The Career Center has many helpful resources to engage your student in self-reflection like the Strong Interest Inventory, which helps students clarify career interests and connect them to job functions in alignment with their career interests, the Life Values Inventory, which helps students consider their personal and professional values and how they may influence career opportunities. Even with reflection and conversation, it may be difficult for your student to clearly state their values, interests, and skills or connect those attributes to  prospective careers. The Understanding Yourself and Your Options section of our website is helpful as you support your student in this self-reflection.

As your student is engaging in new experiences, encourage them to reflect on what they liked/didn't like about the experience. Ask them questions like:

  • How does this experience relate to your long-term educational or career goals?
  • Did the experience provide you with any insights that you hadn’t anticipated?
  • What new skills have you learned since beginning your experience?

Career counselors are available throughout the summer to also assist students as they reflect on their career development and activities.

Access and Share Resources Together.

There are a number of resources available at the Career Center that you may find helpful as you talk to your student about their career. Your encouragement will help the student see the value in utilzing the resources. Consider accessing the following resources with your student:

  • The Career Center blog is a curation of career insights and opportunities and is updated daily by Career Center staff.
  • Handshake is our online job and internship portal. Students also have access to additional Career Center resources through Handshake. 
  • Through Handshake, students have access to several resource cards including Career Exploration and Career Community-specific resources.
  • Career appointments are available to students throughout the summer. If the student can not get back on Grounds for an appointment, the student can call (434)924-8900 to schedule a phone or Skype appointment with a career counselor.
  • The Career Center website and our Hoos Career Guide is also a source for information on the career development process.