December hardly feels like the ideal time to be making summer plans — who has time for that in between finals and booking last-minute flights home? But if you dream of landing a coveted internship in some big city, now might be the time to start thinking about how you’ll be spending those four months.

A common choice, especially for students right after their freshman year of college, is spending the summer at home — getting a job, probably going on a family vacation for a week or two. There’s a reason why this option is so popular among students, of course — living at home can save you a lot of money. And if you’re working, then you’ll have a head start on rent for the next year.

There’s also the appeal of reconnecting with friends from high school, watching TV in your basement and enjoying meals that involve more effort than microwaving a Cup-a-Soup. Most of us justify the decision to spend four months on the couch by hatching elaborate plans for productivity: We’ll learn to cook! We’ll learn the clarinet! We’ll write, direct and star in a stage adaptation of “Old Gregg: The Musical!” We’ll get the band back together and tour Canada!

But if we’re really honest with ourselves, how many Spanish-English dictionaries lay neglected on the bookshelf as their owners browse Reddit? How many sequels to Macbeth really make it past the first few pages? The unfortunate fact is that without at least some constructed time, it’s easy to let the long summer days slip past with nothing to show for those days. There’s definitely something to be said for marathon viewings of “Arrested Development” and day-long strategizing over games of the Lord of the Rings or Risk (please invite me), but those are pleasures probably best taken one day or week at a time. After four months, it can get to be a little much, and then you’re stuck in Spanish class again trying to think of something to write about how you spent your summer.

Fortunately, there’s a huge variety of other options out there just waiting for you to take advantage of them. It feels a little premature to talk about summer plans when we’ve hardly even seen a real snowfall, but the fact is that many of the coolest summer opportunities available have deadlines that are fast approaching. If you’re thinking of branching out of your hometown this summer, I’d recommend going to get information about concentration-relevant internships from a department adviser or trusted faculty member.

The scary — and exciting — thing about spending the summer alone in a new place is that it really is all on you for the first time. Without your family, friends and the enormous support system that we benefit from at the University, the world is yours to figure out. That’s a terrifying and exhilarating moment, one that sometimes seems best to leave until commencement. But why wait until then? In my opinion, a few months spent in the “real world” is a far better learning experience than a semester’s worth of summer classes, and you’ll come back with an insight into how your studies will (or won’t) help you when you graduate.

All in all, spending at least part of the summer out of your comfort zone can only benefit your overall college experience, and will definitely help you better prepare for life after college. That’s why I think that you should take a risk this summer and do something that makes you feel scared, something you feel barely capable of doing. The worst that could happen is that you screw it up and grow as a person. Opportunities are popping up left and right, in your e-mail and on billboards in Angell Hall: Now is the time to go for it. Unless you’re applying to the same internships as I am, that is. In that case, back off and get back to playing Halo on your mom’s couch.

Mary Gallagher can be reached at mkgall@umich.edu.

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