Searching for an internship for next summer has been a major source of anxiety for me ever since summer ended last year. Applying for summer internships is very much like repeating the college application process over again: sifting through numerous websites to find potential programs, having to ask for letters of recommendation from professors and supervisors, and using lots of “action words” to sell yourself to the people reading your application. It’s challenging to find the “perfect” internship/job/program that is meaningful, relevant, feasible, AND pays well. While it’s been a stressful process, it’s can also be incredibly exciting to find opportunities that allow you to do something you are interested in.
I feel like I’ve experienced both sides of the internship spectrum during my summers in college. My freshman year, my family was able to find a one way ticket home to Portland for the summer for only $89 dollars which was awesome but limited any sort of summer opportunities to ones in my hometown without buying an expensive, last-minute ticket somewhere else; plus I was very ready to finally be home for a longer period of time. I was fairly ignorant of summer funding opportunities and assumed I would go back to continue working at the art day camp and military youth camp that I have worked at last summer. I ended not being rehired for either job which was a big blow to my self-esteem and led to me frantically applying to every job I could find on Craigslist related to children or non-profit work, though none of them were willing to hire me for such a short period of time. I even was desperate enough to apply for a job canvassing for the environment though I backed out at the last minute after being freaked out by having to raise $300 dollars by asking others for money (I have a hard enough time asking my friends to borrow $5 dollars let alone asking anyone else for money.) I was a bit pompous by refusing to work any service job, after hearing so many horror stories about dealing with rude customers so I decided to take the plunge and work as an unpaid intern for Friends of Outdoor School, the environmental education non-profit that I volunteered as a student leader (camp counselor) and special needs volunteer ever since high school, after I discovered that the 6 day, 5 night program was being cut to a 3 day, 2 night program. If I had been on top of things, I could have received funding from Bryn Mawr but I didn’t start applying for things until Mid-June, which was much too late. Over the summer, I worked in the office assisting my boss with sending thank you cards to donors, managing volunteers, researching grants and potential donor organizations, and learning the ins and outs of non-profit work from an excellent mentor. When I wasn’t in the office, I was leading canvassing events (ironic right?) by going door to door and setting up informational booths at street festivals and events and helping other passionate volunteers manage their own fundraising events, everything from car washes to bake sales. Although completely exhausting, it was incredibly worthwhile experience to be able to work in the non-profit sector on both an administrative and hands-on level. It also was extremely useful in helping me acquire new jobs on campus and for incorporating my new skills into my dorm leadership positions.
My sophomore year I applied for several internships though Bryn Mawr and Haverford. I withdrew my applications from several of the programs I had been called back for interviews for when I found out I was going to be one of Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship Indonesia Research Program. This was a HUGE source of relief for me since by early March, I knew that I would be getting funded to travel in addition to receiving a stipend, and most of all, I now had concrete plans for my summer and no longer had to stress about what was going to happen. The challenges of things not working out the previous summer are what pushed me to apply and drive to do something meaningful and paid. In a way, I think it was meant to be because I met two of my best friends this past summer and it was the perfect way to prepare me to study abroad and to follow up after my 360 experience. I think I was much more mature this summer and had the skills to better process my experiences so it couldn’t have worked out better.
Finding an internship for this summer in particular has been stressful because I’ve felt a great deal of pressure to do something prestigious and relevant to my major since I’m a junior and the days of getting away with sitting at home watching TV and hanging out with friends have long past (that’s more of a winter break thing now). Along with preparing to write a senior thesis and starting to think about post-graduation plans, this summer internship is forcing me to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life, which I’m not sure I’m ready to do just yet.
At this point, I have been struggling with three career paths: clinical psychology, clinical social work, and non-profit management. Clinical psychology is the most prestigious and well-respected of the three, the best paid (average income of $70,000 dollars), and there are programs that would pay for me to complete my PhD with them. However, it also requires the most amount of schooling and I have recently begun to question whether I want to spend the rest of my life in academia doing research. Social work is something I’m extremely passionate about and is a much easier degree to obtain with more flexibility but social work is poorly paid and people often burn out after a few years due to the exhausting intensity required. Non-profit management is also a great interest of mine but one I know less about in terms of the the path one takes to get there so I am hoping the certificate in management course that I’m taking next week through Bryn Mawr will help me get an idea of how one works towards a career in non-profit management! The hard thing about being interested in clinical work of any kind is that therapy is so deeply confidential that it’s nearly impossible to gain any sort of experience as an undergrad so I am not sure if this is something I would even want to do.
Through all my summer internship searching, I’ve learned a lot of things as well. Here’s some tips I’ve discovered as a rising senior who’s been through the internship application process three times now:
1) Utilize your college’s career options. Bryn Mawr and Haverford offer career resources through the Career Development Office (CDO) where you can have your resume looked at, do mock interviews, do an externship (a weeklong internship over winter or spring break shadowing a Haverford or Bryn Mawr alum in their workplace), and utilize career and internship websites that require a password. One of my favorites is the Liberal Arts College Network (LACN) since the internships posted are only available to college students from the top 30 liberal arts schools so there is sometimes less competition for the positions posted. You can check out their site
2) Look for alternative forms of funding. If you find an unpaid internship, there are several sources of funding on campus that will fund you $3600 before taxes dollars to help pay for transportation, food, and housing. They are even offering new $4500 dollar funds for those doing international internships or those living in expensive places like New York. If you end up not finding something until the last minute, work a menial service job so you can support yourself while still doing what you love at your unpaid internship. This is often necessary to build up your skills and resume before you can apply to better paid jobs and internships.
3) Apply for programs and funding through your school. Bryn Mawr offers many different kinds of paid programs that one can apply for in addition to Bryn Mawr students being able to apply to Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship program as international interns. These programs are specifically for bico students so there is less competition than nationwide programs and you’re likely to meet other bico students with similar interests to you plus you will have a constant resource during the summer should you run into any issues.
4) Manage your time and start your search EARLY! With the craziness of the end of the semester during first semester, it’s easy to put off summer things since they seem so far away but some programs (especially for any sort of governmental program) have deadlines as early as November and most programs tend to be due in January or February. Many programs require a letter of recommendation from a professor so you’ll want to have finalized your list of which programs you are applying for before January so that you are able to ask your professors at least three weeks in advance so they have enough time to write you a recommendation. Sit down and have a conversation with said professor so they are familiar with your skills and interests and will therefore write a stronger, less generic letter of recommendation; this is especially important for freshmen who tend to be in primarily large lecture classes. If you’re like me and hate asking for favors, asking for letters of recommendation can be challenging but remember that it’s part of their job to write them, though thank you gifts are always a much appreciated gesture for their time.
5) Stay organized. Applying to internships and jobs can be overwhelming with so many options out there. What’s really helped me this time around is keeping an excel spreadsheet with all of the programs I am applying for, the compensation they offer, the location, the number of hours worked per week, the deadline, the contact person, and the professors recommending me for that specific internship. It’s helped me keep track of when things are do so I know what to prioritize and manage my time better.
6) Networking. Ask your friends for recommendations! All of us are hunting for internships, jobs, and programs so it’s very likely one of your friends has come upon an internship you might be interested in or a website with programs that fit your interests. They also might recommend you something you may have never thought of, which pushes you out of your comfort zone and you may discover a new love for something completely different than your previous experiences. I like to joke that I’m better at finding internships for my friends than for myself; help your friends out by sending them links to jobs or internships they might be interested in! Talk to Bryn Mawr alum, contact the CDO, talk to professors and bosses, anyone you can; you never know who might know someone who might be able to help you have a summer you never forget!
7) Don’t give up. My freshman year, I applied to be one of the Indonesia Research Program interns and was rejected. My sophomore year I re-applied and was accepted! If you are truly passionate about something, try, try, try again until eventually you succeed. Each rejection and feeling of failure helps us to reexamine where we need to continue working and encourages us to improve ourselves, as difficult as it may be sometimes. You might not get your dream internship this summer, and that’s okay. There will be other summers. Every program and job and application helps you to get your foot a little bit further through the door to eventually achieving.
8) HAVE FUN! Internships, jobs, classes, and programs are all ways for you to pursue your passions in a way you may not normally get to do when in the classroom during the school year, usually with lots of hands-on experience. Overall, don’t stress too much as well! These are the years of our lives when we don’t have to worry about paying back debts or taking care of a family. Go working on a fishing boat in Alaska for the summer! Save up during the school year and go backpacking through Southeast Asia! Volunteer at a local non-profit while working a service job on the side! There are countless opportunities out there, sometimes it just takes patience (and a lot of hard work) to find them.
For all you lovely readers out there: What are your experiences with summer internships? Where was your favorite place that you interned? Did any internships end up leading to job opportunities? Any tips for current students applying to summer internships?
Good luck to all of you out there applying for internships and the seniors applying for real world things! Remember that you’re not alone!