Emma Garber of Needham usually spends her summers earning money as a camp counselor. But with many camps closed and jobs so difficult to find this year because of the pandemic, the rising junior at UMass Amherst had to change her plans.

“I tried to think creatively and brainstorm ways I could make money this summer,” she said. “And I think being a dancer, I have a unique set of abilities that could help others.”

Garber studies dance at UMass, and she has taken dance lessons ever since she was little. She decided to turn her years of classic ballet, tap and hip-hop lessons into her job. She is offering personalized, social-distance dance lessons to young children, and she’s publicizing them on her town Facebook page.

“I know there's a lot of online classes for dance right now, but I can imagine that they're difficult for younger children who are trying to start their dance training. So I thought that would be a really great way just to get kids outside, get them moving.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown summer work plans into disarray for thousands of students like Garber. Many businesses are closed, working remotely, or just not hiring like they usually do. Faced with unemployment, some students are getting creative and channeling their interests and skills into their own personalized jobs.

Saxophone player Evan Jacobson of Brookline decided to offer online music lessons. Jacobson is a rising junior at NYU, where he studies music and computer science. He’s teaching private lessons via Zoom to earn money and enhance his own skills.

“In teaching lessons in quarantine, I like to take advantage of the software that Zoom has to offer,” Jacobson said, “especially the shared screen option.”

Jacobson was finishing a semester abroad in France, when the pandemic forced him to come home in early March.

"I was pretty disappointed," he said. "I had started to make some musical connections, and I started reaching out to some local musicians, some sax players."

But Jacobson didn't let his disappointment keep him down for long. He teaches his virtual music lessons mostly to middle school kids, and he said it is paying off because younger students are looking for things to do, too.

In May, about 16 percent of Massachusetts workers were unemployed, leaving students scrambling to find work.

But if students can't find a job, and they worry about leaving a hole in their resume, Joseph Du Pont from career services at Boston College said future employers likely won't hold it against them.

"Employers will be forgiving in the sense that this is going to be the summer of the pandemic forever more for the class of 2020 and others," Du Pont said.

Students should look to do something career related, if they can, or fall back on previous jobs like cutting lawns and maintenance work, Du Pont said. But despite the roller-coaster ride of uncertainty, he said students shouldn't give up.

"There's been a lot fo student who have volunteered for social causes, and some of those have become paid positions because now they're working on social media and marketing for the same places."

Whether it's a virtual job or internship, building a resume or enrolling in a summer course, career services professionals said students need to think creatively when working toward their career goals.

Mary Kate Gawron of Braintree is doing just that.

Gawron is a gradutte student at Tufts University studying occupational therapy. Last summer, she started a business that teaches private swim lessons and adaptive lessons for children with disabilities. With so many children staying home because of ht epandemic this year, she said, the business has taken off with interest from all sorts of young people.

"We take kids who are typically developing," she said. "We take kids with anxiety. We take kids with autism. We take kids with cerebral palsy."

Gawron's South Shore Sunfish company in Braintree boasts 125 students this summer, prompting Gawron to hire two employees. To be safe during the pandemic, instructors wear face shields and practice social distancing in the pool.

With her business thriving, Gawron encourages all students to aim high.

"If you're thinking about something," she said, "if you're thinking about doing something that will help you and help others, just do it. Don't let anything stop you. And you can do whatever you set your mind to it."