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Summer internships.

It wouldn’t surprise me if your stomach jumped into your throat just reading that phrase. It conjures up images of OCR, endless interviews, and hours spent choosing the perfect resume font. Here at Penn, we all know that the perfect summer job can change a life and make or break a career.

And that’s true, to a point. But what those corporate recruiters never let slip is a damning truth: by spending our prime years pouring coffee and honing our Excel skills, Penn students miss out on valuable life experiences — and a ton of fun.

After all, no one comes to college with a single interest. (How could we even consider applying without a plethora of stimulating extracurricular activities?) Personally, I rode horses competitively for a decade, until the pressures of Penn and my pre-med aspirations caused me to prioritize city internships over summers in the country. Similarly, many other Penn students spend the warm months under fluorescent lights because we’re fed the myth that employers want us to drop all hobbies and talents at the age of 18. If we ever wish to pursue an exciting life of 9-to-5 cubicle work, we have to start now, right? Fortunately, that’s not true.

Kelly Cleary, senior associate director of Penn’s Career Services, does not deny the importance of summer internships in students’ career development. “Employers are interested in hiring students with some internship experience,” she told me. But that doesn’t mean you need a high-class internship every summer.

“They are looking for the full package, [including] extracurricular activities.” Employers value other types of experiences, even to the point of recognizing the customer service and organizational skills required of those in food service, retail, or counseling jobs, Cleary emphasized.

This summer, I worked as a counselor and riding instructor at an arts camp. In keeping with my role and interests as a pre-med student, I shadowed the camp nurses and learned about outpatient pediatrics for an hour a day. However, I spent the majority of my time in the sun and in the barn, caring for the camp horses and teaching riding lessons, before returning each evening to supervise a cabinful of hyper 15-year-olds. I had every other night, and one day a week, free to explore the picture-perfect towns of coastal Maine and spend time with my fellow counselors. I played on the flying trapeze, swam across the lake, and served as a mentor for some incredible kids.

It was heaven.

In accepting the job, I took a risk. According to, well, everyone, the summer after one’s junior year counts for a lot in future job applications. But I had the best summer of my life, and in the end, I still gained marketable skills, just in an unconventional way— not only did my time with the horses (and the vet) teach me about mammalian anatomy and biology, but I also feel more equipped to handle group situations and act as a leader. While I absolutely appreciate the benefits of in-hospital internships, one doesn’t acquire these experiences from months in a lab.

Plus, I got an awesome tan.

Most importantly, I feel like my batteries are finally recharged. I relaxed, I played, I drove all over the beautiful state of Maine, and I explored a vital part of my personal identity that I had ignored for three years — the rider in me. Post-camp, my fellow counselors and I all found ourselves enormously bettered by the experience and somehow more ready to take on the “real world.”

So when you begin to make plans for next summer (and you should get on that; it’s almost October!), consider doing something unorthodox. Take this as your permission slip to head out into the great unknown — don’t tell Morgan Stanley, but it’s okay to actually enjoy your youth. Wait tables in Mexico, guide tour groups in Europe, or escape to the wilds of Maine for a fantastic few months out of the Penn chaos. In 20 office-bound years, you’ll be glad you did.

Lindsey Stull is a College senior from Oklahoma City, Okla. Her email address is

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