January 25, 2008

Students fret looming summer internship apps

First-year Lauren Pulido attended the Venture to Adventure dinner in the hopes that the seminar—in which upperclassmen share tales of their summer experiences—would motivate her not to make the same mistake over the summer she had made over winter break.

“I kind of felt like winter vacation I blew it,” she said. “All I did was sleep, and I didn’t want to sleep through summer.”

Some students came to the dinner eager to learn about summer opportunities, but others slumped in their seats when they heard that while high-school extracurriculars looked great on college applications, future employers would expect summer experience on their résumés.

Pulido, a pre-med student, said she wished she had started planning sooner.

“It felt like it was another responsibility on top of me. Like I have to make my own self busy,” she said.

At the talk, Pulido picked up an application for a volunteer position shadowing a doctor at a hospital. Pre-professional students often use the summer to try out a possible career path.

For students who don’t have plans yet, the prospect of the summer months can feel more ominous than promisingly blissful.

“We’re ready to help you develop your network,” said Jessica Halem, assistant director for undergraduate preparation at CAPS. She added that many first-years began searching over break for the résumé-building positions they believe they need to get a job out of college.

But for some students, the information at the dinner only created fresh anxieties.

“I have a pretty good plan for what I want to do over the summer, but I felt far more relaxed about it before I went to the Venture to Adventure presentation,” said first-year Leah Reisman, who hopes to intern at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and to travel to Africa to do social work. “It seemed like although some of the information they gave was helpful, too much of the presentation was geared towards résumé-building and premature professionalism,” she said.

Max Brooks, assistant director of employer relations for CAPS, offered advice to ease students’ hesitations.

“Rather than thinking about internships as most important, it’s more useful and less worrisome to think about getting a substantive summer experience,” he said. He added that for many students, internships can cause anxiety, especially for students who can’t afford to work without pay.

“People are taking their summers more seriously,” Halem added, but explained this can mean a broad range of things. “A lot of the skills our students gain from their coursework and summer experience are transferable.”

“It can help you make a more informed decision,” said Linda Choi, co-director of student preparation at CAPS. Realizing a career isn’t the right fit can be just as valuable an experience as finding the perfect job.

First-year Alan Tsui is applying for internships in business and technology, but attending the CAPS event stressed him out as he realized the preparation needed to find the perfect internship. Students like Tsui increasingly see selective internships as a prerequisite for entering the business and technology world.

Brooks affirmed this new status quo. “I think [internships] are increasingly important as people are looking for full-time work because they’re becoming the norm.”

The U of C provides grants for students in unpaid positions, but high-achieving students compete for a limited number of grants. “You’re going to have to be prepared,” said Choi, comparing it to applying to college.

Brooks recommended that students who don’t receive grants should take on another unpaid job a few days a week or volunteer. Halem added that even if students spend the summer working at a local restaurant or store, any work experience shows initiative for taking on additional responsibilities.

Students can demonstrate potential and develop skills through paid jobs as well. Fourth-year Andy Forquer said that his summer job working at a taco stand allowed him to experience an English–Spanish working environment.

Students undecided about summer plans and students who already sent in applications often visit the CAPS office with uncertainty, Choi said. She added that advising students is often only a matter of helping them realize what they have actually accomplished.

Halem spoke about a student who spent the summer working at a Costco gas station. He created a market analysis for his managers and determined that the business could save money by closing on Sundays.

“You’re totally allowed to watch TV all summer long if you want to,” Halem said. However, she urged students to take advantage of opportunities available to University students. “I think you have a responsibility as an undergrad at the U of C. Make an impact.”