In today’s competitive job market, applying for internships can feel overwhelming. If you’re scrolling through LinkedIn this summer but don’t have a strong interest in applying somewhere, or you’re having trouble finding internship opportunities, guess what? It’s okay to choose not to intern somewhere this summer.
After over a year of online classes, college students around the world are in need of a serious mental break. A 2020 report from the American Psychological Association (APA) predicts that the heightened stress from the pandemic will have a long-term impact on Gen Z — in other words, if you’re a college student, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself right now. And if that means stepping away from internship applications, that is 100% okay!
Of course, not all students can afford not to work this summer in some capacity, so this advice mainly applies to unpaid internship roles. If you’re feeling burnt out, discouraged, or need some reassurance before making the decision not to take on a summer internship, read on to remind yourself why taking a summer off might be the right choice for you.
- You need time to recover from pandemic burnout
If you’re anything like the millions of students who’ve attended school online this year, chances are, you’ve experienced burnout, an intense experience (often career or school-related) marked by feelings of exhaustion, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Tackling school while being surrounded by pandemic-related stress and trauma is bound to have taken a toll on you, and finding a healthy career-life balance matters more than ever before. Trust me, your mental health is worth way more than a line on your resume — no matter how impressive that line may look.
Ana Obergfell, a student at Boston University, says she decided to take the summer off after experiencing severe burnout. She shares with Her Campus, “I decided not to intern this summer because I felt extremely burnt out this semester. I was doing all I could to keep up with my classwork, so the idea of looking for internships and working this summer felt daunting.”
Ana mentions that while she normally prioritizes “being busy and working hard,” she feels that continuing at this pace is unsustainable. “I’ve neared my breaking point with stress, anxiety, and expectations. I feel if I don’t take a break this summer, I would fall apart by senior year. So, I hope to truly unwind.”
As vaccines continue to roll out in the Western world, one can hope for a more traditional college experience in the fall. And when school is back in session, you’ll want to feel energized for those in-person lectures, extracurriculars, and nights out with friends. However, before you can enjoy that, you have to rest. Although it might seem productive, doing an internship this summer might actually set you back as it can be exhausting and grueling, especially if your internship involves unpaid work. Do yourself a favor and consider taking the next few months off for self-care activities and therapy. Processing and healing from this year’s trauma will take time, and you owe it to yourself to take a step back.
- You deserve quality time for friends, family, and hobbies
PSA: Summer is meant to be fun. Read that again. You deserve to take a break and spend summer days with the people and activities you love, especially after an unprecedented year. Take advantage of the time you have to hang out with your friends and family, go for hikes, spend an afternoon at a nice café, dive into that Netflix show you’ve been meaning to binge-watch or relax on the beach.
Nethmi Edirisinghe, a student at Boston University, says that spending time with family was the main reason she decided not to pursue an internship this summer. “I decided to focus on my family and the things I have to do before I leave [for school],” she shares with Her Campus. I’m very close to my mom and this will be the last time I spend this much time with her, so I want to cherish that.” Nethmi also plans on taking advantage of summer to focus on her poetry, which has been a source of inspiration and self-care for her over the past year.
- You can invest in your career in different ways
If you want to be productive this summer but aren’t excited by the thought of interning at a company, fear not — there are plenty of ways that you can still gain a valuable edge! Many schools and companies offer certification programs and online courses you can work on to develop specific skills. You can also look for remote internship opportunities, volunteer for a cause you care about or work part-time. All of these experiences are great resume-builders that will help your future job search.
Alternatively, you can always make the most of your time off to reflect on what you’ve already accomplished and where you see yourself going. What did you think of the classes you took in college? Did you learn something from your extracurricular activities? Are you interested in grad school? Reflecting and figuring out what you really want and care about is crucial if you want to be fulfilled in your future career — and your life in general.
- You have your entire life to gain professional experience
While you may feel enormous pressure to fill your plate with an internship this summer, trust me, you have lots of time to get valuable professional experience. It may seem like everyone is speeding toward their career path now, but your career path will most likely change many times throughout your life, and you have plenty of time to learn and grow. Once you start working full-time for a company, summer breaks may not be a thing, so make the most of your time now! Don’t miss out on an opportunity to travel and rest — while it may seem like a bold decision in the moment, it’s 100% worth it.
- You’re worth more than your professional skills
No matter what anyone says, your career does not equal your identity. Those people with their entire impressive resume in their Instagram bio probably haven’t figured this out yet, but your job does not define your value in this world — you have so much more to offer than just a job title. This summer, while you may feel pressure to nail down an internship that’ll stand out on your resume — internships aren’t everything. You deserve to recuperate and do what makes you happy, so carve out a path for yourself this summer that feels right for you.
“Even though I am not interning this summer, I [still] feel immense pressure to do something productive,” says Ana, who wants to relax this summer but is still considering applying to grad school. “In my case, I will be studying for the LSAT, taking the exam, and working on my personal statement,” Ana says. “I couldn’t convince myself to completely ‘do nothing’ when everyone I know personally, and on LinkedIn, is working or interning. Even now, I still doubt my decision not to intern this summer; it feels like I’m doing something wrong!”
While you may feel pressure from peers or otherwise to have an internship lined up this summer, know that you have the potential to create a path that’s right for you. Try not to compare yourself to others, and always remember to trust your gut — if it's telling you that you need to rest and get some fresh air, listen to it. There is no shame. And if stepping away from internships gives you time and energy to pursue something else you’re passionate about, go for it! Regardless, give yourself permission to take a pause this summer. I promise, taking time to care for yourself is always a good option.
Ana Obergfell, Boston University
Nethmi Edirisinghe, Boston University
American Psychological Association. (2020). Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. 2020.
World Health Organization. (2019). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization.