Finally, it’s summer. A time to relax, spend time with family and friends, walk the dog, pour some iced tea, road trip to the beach, and pursue an internship.
Wait, that last one didn’t seem so fitting. But for so many at Penn and other high-achieving institutions across the country, it is the norm. Summer, rather than serving as a true break, becomes a resumé-building season. A time during which students can take to LinkedIn and post their, what I like to call, "summer statuses."
“I’m so excited to share that I have accepted a position at…” or “I cannot wait to spend my summer in New York City with the incredible team at…” You know the drill. I’m certainly excited to see my friends' newest accomplishments each time I refresh LinkedIn, but the flood of Penn students on my LinkedIn feed calls attention to a larger pattern.
Penn, as we all know, is unusually pre-professional. It’s a school that, as reported by Career Services in 2021, graduates over 60% of its students into careers in finance, consulting, and technology. These are careers that require ample networking and internship experience. And summer — without the burden of classes, clubs, and social commitments — becomes the prime time for additional academic and professional experiences.
We actively partake in a culture in which elite internships are the status quo — not the exception — and summer is almost as busy as the school year. We’ve accepted this pattern, for better or for worse.
Yes, it’s tough to take time off. There is no denying that Penn instills pressure to spend our summers advancing by working in a classroom or an innovative workplace environment. Sure, these experiences are beneficial, but the pressure is not. Summer is valuable, regardless of where it is spent. And it should be a break.
I’m not here to tell you that I am the golden exception to Penn’s pre-professional trend. Nor do I plan to stand on a soapbox, telling you to "just breathe" during the summer and forget about the real world. I, too, have a summer internship. Yet, as I balance work at a news organization just outside Tel Aviv, Israel, with the exploration of a new city, I’ve realized a key takeaway: Really, it all comes down to balance.
Summer, as Penn students, should be a balance between professional opportunities and breaks. Between time spent with mentors and time spent with friends. Between time on the go and time spent with a good book or good music.
To pop the Penn bubble — to bring a little less of the Penn pre-professional intensity with us on our summer journeys — we must take time to pursue the things that fulfill us. For some, maybe that is a professional experience. I love to write, and the opportunity to pursue journalism in a new country is an unrivaled one. I’ve opted to pursue an internship that, while listed on my LinkedIn experiences page, is one that brings me joy.
But the summer — and my job — would be nothing if I were to remain in a work mindset the entire time. I’m in a new country — an incredibly unique position that merits a break for exploration and childlike curiosity. It merits lunch breaks spent in the busy Tel Aviv markets. Evenings spent watching the sunset from Tel Aviv’s shores. Weekends spent with friends — days off from work taking advantage of my free time.
If academic or internship experiences are the norm, then breaks to supplement professional opportunities with time for oneself should be, too. We actually have free time — something that, during the school year, seems like a foreign concept to most. It’s an opportunity that should be taken advantage of, whether you’re at home, traveling abroad, or remaining in the heart of Philadelphia.
Before we know it, we’ll be back at school in August, getting back in the swing of classes. So, let’s take the chance to focus on ourselves, soak in the warm weather, and escape Penn’s bubble of pre-professionalism, even just for a little bit. Whether you spend your summer at Goldman Sachs or working at an ice cream shop at the beach, hopefully, you can take a chance to remember what the season is all about. Sip some lemonade, and, come next fall, we’ll all be better off for it.
Who knows, maybe the next "summer status" LinkedIn post might read: “I’m so excited to share that I’ve taken a break.”
ISABEL ENGEL is a rising College sophomore studying communications and health and societies from Potomac, Md. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.