The blow came in the form of a dry-cleaning bag to the head.
“Sorry,” said a junior in my writing seminar who lugged his suit to class. “I’m going through OCR right now.”
He had applied to 55 jobs in the past two weeks, he explained — half of what his friends had submitted. For me, the blow was a manifestation of internship season: a phenomenon that has, for better or for worse, overshadowed my second semester.
I understand why the upperclassmen obsess over the search — they view summers as building blocks for impending graduation. But as freshmen, it’s easy to get caught in the craze. We plough through career fairs and alumni dinners, but many of us aren’t sure of what we’re trying to find. We don’t search for experiences as much as for lines on our resumes, or answers to the question, “What are you doing this summer?”
“It’s pathetic,” said Catherine, a freshman from Texas, who believes watching upperclassmen endure OCR makes our class “feel pressured to join in the frenzy.”
“There’s a lot of price tag labels,” she added. “Like, ‘so-and-so is going to work for this company and they’re making X amount of money. It’s very dog-eat-dog.’”
While she’s a student in the College, Catherine feels the pressure to go into the financial sector — even though a survey from Career Services found that only 7 percent of rising sophomores worked in finance the summer of 2013. “The competition is really intense for what everyone perceives as the right internship, which is investment banking,” she said. “You’re never good enough, and you always feel second best. People are more concerned about the right career path than following their passions.”
Even for those who try to follow their passions in the professional world, the search can be grating. But at an English major alumni panel, a recent grad said she wished she’d spent less time worrying about internships and more with friends she no longer lives near. An older alumnus asked me and a cluster of other freshmen why we were there. “You have so much time,” he said. “Are you just worried about this because it’s the next thing?”
Hours spent scrolling through i-Net and PennLink remind me of the college admissions process. I spent high school working towards a concrete goal: college acceptance. It’s my first instinct to reach for another tangible target now that I’m here, and internship offers are a compelling source of validation. But the summer after freshman year is widely regarded as “the last summer you can be young,” as my upperclassmen friends tell me. According to a 2013 self-reported study from the Office of Career Services, roughly three-fourths of undergraduate rising sophomores spent their summers working, either in paid or unpaid positions. The other quarter travelled, conducted independent research or (God forbid) relaxed — all of which are completely acceptable, according to Anne Marie Gercke, associate director of Career Services.
“Internships are definitely one way you can spend a summer, and they’re great experiences,” she said. “But it’s also not the only thing you can do with your summer. The most important thing is to focus on what’s going to make you happy.” She urged that Penn students take advantage of the myriad resources Career Services offers. “We can help put your mind at ease. Students shouldn’t freak out by any means.”
That freakout can be infectious, though. As much as I remind myself that this summer won’t define my career, it’s hard to escape the group mentality permeating out of Huntsman — which was why I was so impressed when my roommate announced she wasn’t looking for internships. Instead, she’s finding a job at a summer camp, partially because it meshes well with her environmental studies major, but mostly because it makes her happy. She loves being outside, she enjoys working with kids and she feels she shouldn’t stress about her career yet.
“I think this is the summer where we discover ourselves,” she told me. “How you think the best way to do that is what you should do.”
I nodded. I agree, I told her. I should embrace that mentality.
But five minutes later, I was back on PennLink.
DANI BLUM is a College freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Danalyst” appears every Thursday.
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