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Credit: Asha Chawla

Spring is in the air and so is the all-too-familiar grumble about summer internship plans. 

From Sidechat grievances about rejections to the “I am excited to announce …” LinkedIn posts, lining up a professional opportunity for the summer seems to be an expectation for every Penn student. As a first year, I was warned about the rampant pre-professional culture at Penn and the overall competitiveness surrounding clubs, but it wasn’t until I started hearing the internship talk that I realized all of my peers knew what they were doing this summer, while I was left grasping at straws. 

I felt even more behind on the job race that apparently started the second we stepped foot on campus, leaving me with only one prospective summer plan of going home — not to say this isn’t a wonderful chance to spend time with family — but leisure feels guilty when everyone else is already 10 steps ahead. 

Our career-centric environment shapes students into a mechanical rhythm that gears us up for recruiting in the coming years but de-emphasizes the importance of exploration of our unique interests. Especially in the first two years when there is a lessened pressure to make long-term career decisions, academic exploration should be at the forefront. However, this University guides its students away from pursuing an education that does not guarantee an immediate return, leaving many first years frustrated at this tradeoff between professionalism and passion

Instead of feeling discouraged or behind, it’s important to remember that we still have time to explore our interests without the pressure to allocate to solely transactional opportunities. Recruiting cycles for this summer started up in the year prior, meaning that these internships are not even targeted towards underclassmen. 

Moreover, highly sought after investment banking firms like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan announced in 2018 that they would no longer extend summer internship offers to college sophomores, and even outside of these two companies, summer internships generally accept first years and sophomores who have little experience to offer. 

This isn’t to say those internships are unattainable. In fact, 50% of the Class of 2022 graduates going into full-time employment reported entering finance or consulting, likely stemming from summer internships in their junior year. But the question remains: What can first years do this summer in the meantime? 

Most of our resumes still have lingering experiences from high school, and our professional exposures primarily consist of workshops or presentations through clubs, yet these sought after internships are looking for more. This endless cycle has a way out, I promise. 

Instead of vying for a consulting or finance internship, rising sophomores should take advantage of this summer to obtain meaningful but still professionally valuable opportunities that are tailored to their unique interests. 

Programs like the Global Research & Internship Program or the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program offer the possibility for first years to explore specialized fields while being exposed to real professionalism, whether it is through a global internship or a research environment. From studying wine, heritage, and hospitality in Porto, Portugal with GRIP to spending 10 weeks researching diabetes and oral health with PURM, there is a variety of niche experiences where underclassmen can explore their passions. 

The career exposure must start somewhere, so instead of getting discouraged thinking we must have already started preparing for the internships that will inevitably be stepping stones to our futures, we should capitalize on the chances we have to learn in these unique settings while there is less pressure.

Then, we can use these meaningful connections to build those skills towards the competitive internships when they are finally targeted toward us.

The pressures of the internship search will inevitably come, but in the meantime, we shouldn’t have to trade passion for professionalism, but rather explore the intersection between the two. 

Credit: Sydney Curran

ASHTI TIWARI is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Corning, N.Y. Her email address is