Productive summer ideas for high schoolers

If you have high school students in your family, you might have already filled their dance cards with meaningful activities for the summer break. If not, you’re in luck -- I’ve got some ideas.

1. Paid employment. Depending on the age laws in your area, your teen might be ready to apply for summer jobs. You probably already know this, but perennial favorites include fast food, restaurant work, landscaping, construction and all manner of retail positions.

The market is tight, so good preparation and process is the key to success. For teenagers, a one-page resume highlighting skills and any past work experience is a good starting point. The next step is to deliver the resume in person (dressed appropriately, of course) and to follow up with a call to the manager to ask if a position might be open.

2. Unpaid internships. Given the short time frame, I'd advise job-seeking teens to go to Plan B if they haven't been successful in the search by mid- or late June. A good second (or first) option is an unpaid internship. This can be done with any employer, but it will take some effort to set up.

To get started, help your teen think of things he or she’d like to learn about. The next step is to identify local companies where that subject is central to the work. Again, the final steps are to deliver resumes in person and call the manager to ask if an internship might be possible.

3. Entrepreneurship. Summer businesses for teens can range from the very simple (baby-sitting) to the complex (landscaping teams).

As a rule, the best summer businesses require little or no overhead and have services or products that can be delivered relatively easily.

4. Volunteering. Whether it's the primary activity or something your teen adds to an already busy schedule, volunteering can produce memories that last a lifetime. The options include everything from improving parks to playing cards with seniors to coaching kids. Contact local nonprofits or a volunteer clearinghouse to learn about opportunities in your area.

5. Study. Summer is a great time to catch up on subjects that were difficult to master last year, or to learn more about a favorite topic. Online classes, summer school and even community education courses are all options.

6. College preparation. If your teen is planning to go to college, it's never too soon to start preparing. These efforts can range from researching different schools to starting the search for scholarships to taking courses that will count for college credit. To help with this process, consider purchasing Laura Gilbert's new book, "How to Save $50,000 on College" (CreateSpace, 2011, $9.95). Here you and your teen will find a variety of money-saving strategies and worksheets to help reduce the costs of a college education.

7. Self-improvement. I'm thinking of things that are more personal, such as getting in shape or learning to play the guitar.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.