Coming into my first semester at Penn, I had already prepared myself for the increased academic rigor, inevitable competition between students, and preprofessional culture. What I hadn’t prepared myself for as much was internship season.
I had expected stress and anxiety over summer plans to start once the fall semester ended, and the holiday season was in full swing. Finals would be over, my first semester would be in the books, and I could devote some of my winter break (depressing, I know) to scoping out ways to spend my first summer as a Penn student. It should be straightforward — fill a few applications, update my resume, and sit through a couple rounds of interviews — and I’d be golden.
Oh, how wrong I was to think that the onslaught of emails about the summer would hold off until winter break. I seriously underestimated how a constant stream of interdepartmental emails, LinkedIn updates, and CURF (Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at Penn) newsletters would give me a sense of impending doom every time someone says the words, “What are you doing this summer?” Not to mention, it seems like the process starts as soon as you set foot on campus. NSO is barely underway before we freshmen are peppered with questions about our career interests and assaulted with acronyms (CURF, PURM, GRIP, to name a few) right as we take our first tentative steps into the world of Penn.
As I’ve come to learn in the past couple months, this period of preprofessional bombardment has a name: everyone, welcome to internship season.
What is internship season? This is a time of year not full of happiness and cheer, but during which we quickly learn the difference between research positions and internships, which opportunities are worth the lack of compensation, and start the race to confirm our summer plans. There are applications to fill out, offers to consider, interviews to prep for, and professors to talk to.
We freshmen enter the fight with little experience, other than that which got us into Penn in the first place. At times, it seems like getting into this school was the easy part; navigating our way through it all is much more difficult. All we’re told and know for certain is that the entire process is long and tedious, not to mention overwhelming — on top of a regular courseload and extracurriculars as we go from fall to spring semester.
As a freshman, I wonder, what’s the point of it all — the additional stress, the constant comparisons to classmates, the feelings of unworthiness? Is it even possible for us to enjoy our college experience, here and now, if we’re already worrying about what we’re doing at the end of the school year? We barely know what we want to major in, let alone the careers we want to pursue or the ways to get there. Internships, research positions, volunteer work, study abroad, extra classes, and summer jobs…what is the best option?
At Penn, especially during the height of internship season, it can feel like only certain avenues are acceptable routes to take towards one’s career goals, but there’s no one path to what you want to do. Our first–semester grades aren’t even set in stone, and we don’t have GPAs to speak of or transcripts to submit. Our relationships with professors and advisers are just beginning to form, however tenuously, and we’re still trying to find our footing. It seems like everyone has their trajectory figured out and has their summers on lock, but it’s important to realize that’s not true.
So what exactly is the secret to conquering internship season? Perhaps it’s to adopt the mentality of “every person for themself,” though not in the traditional sense…While internship season comes with a healthy dose of inter–student competition, it seems that all you can do is focus on what you want for yourself and go for it. And remember, you’re extremely capable — good luck!