Don't stress over summer internships

by Morgan Baker / Beacon Correspondent • April 27, 2012

I can’t pinpoint the year, but sometime between the time I graduated college and now as a college professor, summer for college students stopped being about kicking back with friends, relaxing and making money for the following school year.  Now, it seems, summers have turned into mini-semesters.  They’re all about summer school and internships, especially internships. 

My college summers were about leisure.  I played at the beach, I traveled Europe with a friend.  I cleaned houses and worked at restaurants.  I obsessed about sunscreen the way students now obsess about internships.  I had the rest of my life to work and stress.  I wasn’t going to jump into that game any sooner than I had to, plus I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.  It took more than a few summers and a few jobs and grad school before I realized I wanted to write and teach. 

Students today are much more serious and focused than I was, which is probably a good thing.  But as I watch them cram summer classes in so they can get done with school faster, I wonder if they’re missing out on the chance to absorb some of the material they’ve learned.  Students also obsess about internships the way I used to obsess about sunscreen. 

Some students have their summer internships tucked away already and are just waiting for the last day of the semester to roll around.  Others, who were buried in classes and clubs are coming out now frantically looking at the leftovers.  Even my daughter, who grew up on the beach in the summers, is stressing about what internship in film she might be able to get this summer, forgoing her camp counselor job on the Cape Cod. 

After a recent panel on freelance writing, a student asked me how many internships she needed before she could apply for a real-world job.  Another student lingered after class one day, and asked which internship – marketing or editorial- she should apply for at the same paper.  Students have asked for recommendations for high-powered New York magazine internships.  They all begin to mush together.

What I really want to tell them is to relax, take a massive chill pill.  Students struggle through accelerated summer classes to save time and money.  I get it.  I’m footing a college tuition too. Those are some hefty bills, but college is a one-time deal.  Students shouldn’t rush it.  They’ll get jobs.  They really will.  Given the world we’re in today, it may take longer than they want.  They may have to move home and they may have to be patient and persistent, hopefully traits Emerson has helped instill in them. But they have the rest of their lives ahead of them.  Getting an internship this summer isn’t going to make or break them.  

At home, checking in with my own daughter, I fight to find those words to say to her.  Instead, I ask how many emails she sent out, whether she’s heard back from anyone.  The stress is contagious. I need to listen to my own advice. 

Internships, I need to remind students, aren’t always what they’re advertised to be.  Many aren’t even paid.  If students are lucky, they might get academic credit.  Sometimes interns fetch coffee and make copies.  Sometimes they really do get to work and learn.  But interns need to remember the internship isn’t just there to list on a resume, it is theirs to help them figure out what kinds of careers interest them. 

Students, and parents, should also remember that internships aren’t the only way of lining that resume.  Students with passions shouldn’t give up.  If that internship didn’t come through this summer, find another way to work in the field.  Emerson is about creating and seizing opportunities.  So be creative.  Start a blog.  Submit some freelance pieces.  Worst case scenario – there’s always the beach and some sunscreen.