Christmas break is a great time to sleep in, decompress, and recover from all the self-induced sleep deprivation brought on by finals week. But once you’ve recuperated and restored your vitals to normal levels, you may just realize that a few school-free, homework-free weeks are yours for the taking. Here’s what you can do to stay productive over winter break, ward off cabin fever, and jumpstart your spring semester:

Return and/or Sell Fall Semester Textbooks

Before you do anything else this winter break, be sure to return any rented textbooks as soon as possible, as late fees can put a dampener on an otherwise cost-effective way of acquiring course materials. Most of the major rental firms, like Chegg and BookRenter, provide complimentary, printable shipping labels for return, so there’s usually no need to spend your own money on postage.

As for any unwanted tomes lying around in your possession, take to the campus bookstore for instant cash back or in-store credit, or hold out for a higher return on the secondhand market by setting the price low enough to undersell the bookstore, but high enough to walk away with a sizable chunk of Christmas cash.

If your college has an active Reddit page or textbook exchange Facebook group, advertise the percentage or dollar amount saved by purchasing directly from you as opposed to the price-gouging bookstore. When you cut out the middleman, everyone wins.

Related5 Ways to Save on Textbooks This Year

Rent and/or Buy Spring Semester Textbooks

Some campus bookstores guarantee in-stock availability for spring semester textbooks, but only if you preorder by a cutoff date. That deadline is sure to be looming shortly, so turn to your required materials list as soon as professors release them in order to determine which books you plan on purchasing and which books you’d rather rent.

For the latter, it’s also wise to order ahead of time to not only beat the back-to-school rush and compensate for laggy snail mail delivery, but also to snag the best deal. Some textbook rental companies fluctuate their prices in accordance with the market, lowering them during lulls in demand (AKA, Christmastime) before raising them once demand surges (AKA, three days before class).

Thoughtfully Gift

What fun is going down the Christmas wish lists of your friends and family members, mindlessly checking off line-item by line-item as you purchase preselected merchandise already chosen in advance by the giftee? You’re a human, not a pre-programmed automaton, so gift like one.

Reflect on the personalities, passions, and quirks of your loved ones to hone in on a gift tailor-made for them. Head on over to Amazon’s Gift Central or Etsy’s Gift Ideas page for a starting point. Trust me: the thoughtful gift always makes for a more authentic and surprising Christmas morning than the thoughtless gift.

Gift for a Family in Need

For many of us growing up, giftwrapped presents glimmering beneath the Christmas tree came to be an inevitability, something taken for granted. Amid the festive traditions and holiday cheer of this heavily-commercialized season, it’s all too easy to forget about the millions of households facing an uphill battle to provide their children with something to remember the holidays by. You can lend a giving hand by reaching out to one of the many charitable drives of the Christmas season, from the Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys For Tots drive.

Consider giving the gift of giving by donating livestock in someone’s name to underprivileged families in developing nations through Heifer International. Not only is this donation a gateway to sustainable agriculture for the impoverished; it’s also a safe bet in the realm of gift-giving: according to Heifer, 79% of Americans would prefer to have a charitable gift donated in their name. Finally, if you have a little brother or sister, address their Santa Claus letter to Macy’s Believe campaign, which donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for every letter received.


If you’d rather lend your time rather than money to a worthy cause, the frequently understaffed food pantries and homeless shelters of your neighborhood would be eager to enlist your generosity. So would United Way, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or Meals on Wheels, which organizes volunteer drivers to deliver complimentary meals to the doorsteps of elderly shut-ins.

Alternatively, head on over to VolunteerMatch to carve your own unique volunteer niche.

Read a Book of Your Choosing

Between the dry discourse of peer-reviewed journals and the unimaginative prose of textbooks, reading tends to garner a poor reputation among the college crowd. But it doesn’t have to be a chore.

Browse your local library or bookstore in pursuit of anything — be it historical fiction or guilty-pleasure romantic novel — that catches your attention and holds it hostage to the very last page. It doesn’t have to be the hottest bestseller or the most revered classic; in fact, it’s probably better if it’s not, since you are your own best librarian – not the New York Times and not your English professor.

Start That Club You’ve Always Wanted to See on Campus

Always had a hankering to deliver your campus its local chapter of the International Quidditch Association, but just never got around to it? Well, now’s your chance. You may be off for winter, but your student life office should still be lingering on campus.

Call them up to find out what all is required to turn your extracurricular idea into reality. If the paperwork becomes overwhelming, divvy it up amongst friends and interested members. Usually, officially recognized student organizations call for a faculty adviser, so take the time to draft a prospectus for your favorite professors, outlining why the club would be a good use of their time.

Compile a Portfolio of Your Fall Semester Work

During this respite from all things academic, you may feel the urge to distance yourself as far away as possible from past term papers, presentations, and projects. Relax, they can’t hurt you at this point.

On the contrary, they may be able to help you later down the road when applying for that internship, job, or grad school spot, but only if you take the time to archive your finest moments into a personal portfolio — better yet, an electronic portfolio stored on a cloud storage service like Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Amazon Cloud, lest some unforeseen digital disaster wipes your hard drive clean.

Polish Your Spring Semester Schedule

Academic advisers can tell you what classes you need to take, but not when to take them or what sections to enroll in. That’s where you come in. You’ve probably enrolled in spring semester courses by this point, but now’s the time to tweak your class schedule to your liking.

If possible, try to dump your course load onto one of the two standard weekday slots, either Monday, Wednesday, Friday (MWF) or Tuesday, Thursday (TR). The MWF option is great for students who prefer shorter class sessions, while the TR route affords commuter students the luxury of only having to trek to campus twice a week.

Professors should also factor into schedule-crafting. You’ll be spending up to 16 weeks together with them, so take the time to vet all possible candidates on Rate My Professors.

Rate Your Fall Semester Professors

The only thing better than vetting professors is rating them. Although you’re safe from reprisal thanks to the anonymity accorded by Rate My Professors, don’t use it as a license to launch into an all-caps, incoherent tirade against your less-than-stellar instructors.

Instead, articulate their shortcomings in honest, but fair detail so that students know what to expect and so that the faculty member knows what weaknesses to work on. They’ll rarely admit it, but professors frequent the site just as much as their pupils.

Apply for Scholarships

Get a head start on scholarship dollars for the upcoming academic year by tapping into a search engine like Zinch, Fastweb, or SallieMae. After punching in your graduating class and GPA, these databases comb thousands of scholarship listings across the nation before returning those that best fit your academic profile. Localize the search by visiting your school’s foundation to find any tuition-slashing grants or awards you may qualify for.

Related5 Ways to Save Money on Tuition

Hit the Gym

White Christmases are overrated. Sure, they make sledding excursions possible, but they also turn sidewalks into safety hazards, bike lanes into snowmobile paths, and basketball courts into hockey rinks (no offense, Canada, although I’m sure none was taken).

Get the blood flowing again at your local gym, where a seasonal membership will make a great use of your time, as well as a passive-aggressive stocking stuffer for the friend who has everything (including the freshman 15).


Image: Tom Coates