4 Wise Ways to Spend the Last Winter Break of High School

Winter break is an ideal time to explore college major options and prepare for life away from home.

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High school seniors can use downtime between semesters to reflect on their academic interests and learn more about their college choices.
High school seniors can use downtime between semesters to reflect on their academic interests and learn more about their college choices.

Winter break during senior year of high school can be a stressful and emotional time, as graduation and the start of college loom. Students may be dealing with pressure to choose a school, second-guessing early decision applications or feeling sad that time with family and friends is winding down.

Several current college students reflected on their past experiences and offered some guidance for how to handle what can be a confusing, anxious time. 

1. Start practicing responsibilities: While some may just want to spend winter break sleeping in and relaxing, it might behoove teens to begin taking on some household tasks. George Kallas, a freshman at the University of Iowa, said students should get an early start on the transition. 

"They should start doing their own laundry and more things on their own," says Kallas. "I thought that was the biggest adjustment from high school to college." 

Other lifestyle choices can get the best of you in college if you are not prepared. Staying healthy and in shape is another challenge. 

"I'd recommend to start working out and exercising to get into a good habit so you can avoid the freshman 15 and maintain good health throughout college," says Indiana University senior Alex Terchek. 

[Take time to practice college study skills during high school.] 

2. Learn more about yourself: For students undecided about a major, winter break can be an opportunity to explore their interests. Sean Murray, a senior at Arizona State University, says he used this time to discover a great deal about himself and what we wanted to do with his life. 

"I had no idea where I was going, but I spent time practicing my instrument, jamming with friends and going on a backpacking trip. Now, I'm working toward degrees in music and sustainability and I love what I do," he says. 

Although students are often told they'll have time to settle on a major once they get to college, Murray pointed out that now might be the most downtime they'll have for a while. 

"Time is precious and as school and life go on, it becomes harder and harder to find free time," he says. "Spending the time immersed in one's passion is a great way to find out what kinds of things they would really enjoy doing post-high school." 

[See these 10 tips college freshman should know.] 

3. Make more campus visits: Whether you have decided on a school or not, this is an opportune time to go on more campus visits. Nikhita Kathuria, a third-year student at the University of California—Irvine, said this is a good opportunity to confirm your college selections. 

"Take another visit to ensure you're making the right choice," she says. "Sometimes, seeing the school in different seasons – winter versus fall, for example – can help you decide if it is truly where you belong." 

Iowa student Kallas also says that seeing the campus in a different light is a smart idea for either scenario. "It would be particularly helpful to go on a weekend, or when there are more people in the town, to see if you could see yourself going there." 

[Get tips for managing the college application process.] 

4. Enjoy quality time at home: Most students agree students should take advantage of time at home with family and friends while they still can. 

Students don't realize how important family is until they've moved away, Kathuria says. "As you get more into college life, you will probably not be returning home as often, so take this opportunity." 

Terchek, from Indiana University, says that he certainly values his time at home, but that students should also realize they will be similarly appreciative of time spent with the people close to them at college. 

"Enjoy your friends and family now, because it will all change once you enter college," he says. "Once you find your place, it'll turn into a second life for you. You'll have your second set of friends, and at times what feels like a second family." 

Cathryn Sloane is a marketing coordinator for Varsity Tutors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Iowa.