by Lauren Joffe

With just a few weeks left of summer vacay, why not make the most of the free time you have before going back to school? Instead of spending the rest of your summer lulling in a lounge chair and frying your skin (and brain), check out these alternative summer plans to keep you buzzing. …

1. Get a hobby!

A friendship was ripped apart on “The Real Housewives of New York City” when Bethenny Frankel uttered those three little words to Jill Zarin: “Get a hobby.” But it wasn’t bad advice. Always thought you might be the next Top Chef? Or maybe a pro surfboarder? Heck, we all have dreams -- and there’s no time like the present to indulge in them. Take a course, go online or just check out a how-to book from your local library.

2. Hit the road.

Road trip! Grab a travel companion and roll on out. Have a college friend who lives in the Big Apple and you’ve never been? Crash his place! Haven’t seen some of this country’s wondrous national parks? Go to NPS.gov, then pitch a tent and play “Survivor.” (Don’t forget the bug spray.) Now is the time to head out on the highway. ...

3. Be a groupie.

Remember the “band-aids” in Almost Famous? With all your free time, you could go “on tour.” Grab your closest music-jamming pals and follow your favorite band around the country on the last leg of its summer tour. Be sure to invite your friend with the most righteous camping skills. And if the band keeps seeing your familiar faces in the crowd, you might even get an invite backstage. Hey, it could happen.

4. Volunteer.

Grassroots organizations are always looking for eager helping hands. You can even take your skills abroad -- it’s not too late to hop online and check out volunteer programs overseas (try VolunteerOverseas.org). But if you’re feeling short on time, check out charitable opportunities right in your own community. (Go to VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities in areas all around the United States.) Here’s to making a difference!

5. Make money.

The remaining weeks of summer are the perfect time to offer up a skill or service to friends and neighbors. Whether your forte is landscaping, jewelry making or dog walking (lots of people go on vacation this time of year and need a pet sitter!), print out some fliers and pass ’em around. Rake in some cash to take back to school with you.

6. Redecorate.

Chances are, your room at home looks the same as it did when you were in high school (um, Hello Kitty). Well, you’re a young adult now, so reinvent your space. It doesn’t take a whole lotta cash to spiff up a bedroom. (You’ve seen “Design on a Dime,” right?) Go to the home improvement store and look for “oops” paints -- the colors that people ordered up but rejected -- which are drastically marked down. Paint your walls … or just your headboard.

7. Go on auditions.

If you have some acting, dancing or musical abilities, audition for a creative performance in your community. Join a summer theater workshop, play bass on that local band’s new studio album, be a movie extra. Can we have your autograph?

8. Grow a green thumb.

This could be as simple as starting a window herb garden -- or as big as participating in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. (Go to Wwoof.org for info.) Help the global community develop more eco-friendly, sustainable habits, and in return you will receive free housing, food and an organic living education.

9. Take up scrapbooking.

You know all those photographs that are just hanging out on your memory card? Do something with them. Piece them together into a photo album, put some in frames, or make a cool collage of you and your college friends.

10. Figure stuff out.

If you’re like most college kids, you might still be unsure of your true passion. Do some research, talk to people and experiment with what motivates you. Check back here next week on the Academics Channel and read “Setting Career Goals” for more direction. Now more than ever, you have the opportunity to do whatever you want -- so take advantage.

Available on Amazon.com:

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Alternative Summer Plans for College Students