Using Your Winter Break Wisely in High School

How to Spend Winter Break in High School /

Winter break is that beautiful period between semesters when your obligations are few and you have the ability to do whatever you want, for as long or as short as you want, every day. You’ve finished the previous semester’s finals and chances are, you weren’t assigned much schoolwork to complete in the two weeks or so until school starts back up again. You can enjoy the holidays with your friends and family without having to worry about educational obligations. Well, without having to worry about too many educational obligations.

If your teachers have assigned any work, you obviously should make that a priority. You don’t want to show up unprepared on the first day of the new semester. If you don’t have any school-related work to do, there are still plenty of things to keep you busy for a few weeks in December. While it sounds fun to just hang around the kitchen eating gingerbread cookies and drinking hot chocolate all winter break, you should put at least some of your time toward productive activities.

If you’re a senior in high school: You’re quite possibly in the middle of applying to college. Applications are often due by January 1 or January 15, which gives you a month (at the longest) to finish up your personal essays, activities sheets, and short answer questions. Remember that it’s your responsibility to make sure all parts of your application are submitted on time. If your teachers, counselors, or coaches haven’t sent in their letters of recommendation yet, now is the time to remind them. Once you’ve gotten everything submitted, you’ll actually be able to enjoy your break! Spend some time writing thank you notes to anyone who wrote you a letter or recommendation and complete any necessary financial aid applications (FAFSA, CSS Profile) if you haven’t already.

If you’re a junior in high school: It may feel like graduation is still pretty far off, but you’ve only got one year until you’re the one who is scrambling to finish college applications before their deadlines. Since you have some time now, start researching colleges and building a list of those that you’re potentially interested in attending. Based on your list and your academic strengths, decide if you want to take the SAT or the ACT, and slowly start studying. You don’t have to sign up for the next test sitting, but creating a timeline for college visits, standardized tests, and eventually, your application(s) is going to be helpful in the long run. Use winter break to get started.

While the two tips above apply to high school upperclassmen (or very on-top-of-it freshmen and sophomores who want to create a college list and study for the SAT or ACT), the following tips are applicable to everyone. Don’t worry, we’re not going to tell you that your entire winter break has to be spent studying and doing other “boring” activities, but we will give plenty of suggestions to keep you busy.

Do any assigned work. Obviously, this is the top priority. If you’ve been given an assignment by your civics teacher that’s due on day one of next semester, you better be ready to walk into class prepared. If you know what you’re reading in English next semester and you’re a slow reader, it wouldn’t hurt to get a head start. If you’re taking a semester-long photography class, make sure you understand the basics of how to use your camera before you head back to school. You don’t have to study for hours every day, but taking some time to make next semester easier for yourself wouldn’t hurt.

Apply for scholarships. You don’t have to be a senior in high school to start applying for scholarships. In fact, you can start applying for scholarships when you’re just a freshman in high school, and you can keep applying for them throughout college. Don’t just search for scholarships that are going to give you a full ride to college, instead, look for smaller scholarships and apply for many of them! Those small amounts add up, especially if you start applying well before senior year. Unigo has some good scholarship offerings, as does Fastweb.

Work a part-time or seasonal position. The hiring is excellent around the holidays because so many more people than usual are out shopping. Often, retail positions begin hiring around Thanksgiving and maintain extra staff through the New Year, but you might get lucky and find a store that just needs a week or two of help. If you can’t get in with a local store, offer to babysit for your neighbors when they go out shopping or to holiday parties. House- and petsitting for out-of-town neighbors or family friends is also an option.

Update your résumé. Take an afternoon to create or revisit your résumé. You’ll need an up-to-date version anytime you want to apply for a job, and when it comes time to apply for college, a vocational program, or a gap year program, it’ll be useful to have your résumé in front of you. Once you have the initial draft of your résumé written, the updates that you should do periodically will be easy. (You’ll want to update your résumé every time something changes, like when you leave a job, get a new job, gain a skill, or switch schools.) You can see a sample résumé here.

A girl reads a book over winter break

NinaMalyna /

Read a book. If you’re a reader, this is probably a no-brainer. If you’re not a big reader though, think of reading a new book as a good way to study for standardized tests while still doing something enjoyable. When you read, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you learn new vocabulary, improve your memory, and reduce stress. It’s not physical exercise, but mental exercise is just as important! Consider this your excuse to curl up in your pajamas on the couch with a new book. Here are our most recent suggestions.

Volunteer. You’ve got some extra time on your hands, so why don’t you use it to help others? Whether you serve Christmas dinner at the local soup kitchen, become an Angel Tree sponsor, or wrap presents at your local bookshop, you’re embracing the spirit of the season. Any hours that you spend volunteering can be recorded as volunteer hours for Key Club, Beta Club, National Honor Society, or other service organizations. Just make sure that you have someone sign off so the hours go toward your annual total.

Relax. This is the epitome of winter break, which is really for relaxing and enjoying time with your family. Whatever you do to relax, do lots of it. Whether it’s cooking, watching holiday movies, or taking long walks in the snow, go for it! Use this time to become revitalized and reenergized so you can be fresh for the upcoming semester. Bundle up in front of the fire, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy everything that December has to offer.

Enjoy your time off. Happy holidays!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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