“What are you doing for the summer?”
The quintessential question of late April pervades Chocolate Bar conversations and Lower line small-talk, prompting some to boast about internships with big name companies, gush over exciting travel or study abroad opportunities, or resentfully describe returns to summer jobs at home. The word “internship” weasels its way into the Boston College lexicon early in the spring semester and hangs around like a dirty snow bank. The competitive nature of the internship world leads us students to make a bigger deal out of internships than they actually are. In reality, internships provide students with experience that may or may not be relevant to future careers, but they are not the be-all end-all of the summer college experience.
For many of us looking for internships, it absolutely does not make sense to give up the opportunity to work a seasonal job for pay in order to gain the title of “intern” and make nothing, or next to nothing. Because they are so lucrative, internships are seen as the key to success, but often this is not the case. Internships, for pay or otherwise, fit snugly with our “work hard, play hard” mentality. We work hard to get internships, we work hard at the internships, and then our hard work pays off when we are offered jobs, or so it may seem.
According to the New York Times, 41 percent of readers find unpaid internships exploitative and agree that they are a waste of students’ valuable and limited summer time. In fact, a study of the graduating class of 2013, conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, concluded that the employment rate after graduation for former unpaid interns was only 37 percent, a mere two percent more than the rate for graduates who had never had an internship.
If internships, particularly unpaid ones, do not give students significant advantages after graduation, why are we so preoccupied with finding them? The glory of the internship lies not in the advantages it brings, but rather the status. Describing internship experiences and business casual dress sounds more prestigious than describing summers spent roasting in lifeguard chairs.
The truth is that they are far from the only constructive way to spend a summer and they are not the only way to make oneself more competitive for future jobs. Employers look for well-rounded people with communication, writing, and organizational skills, which can be learned in a variety of settings beyond the formal internship. Travel, volunteerism, seasonal jobs and other non-internship summer plans can all provide us with the opportunity to gain real-world skills that are often left out of the classroom.
While we may get lost in the cutthroat internship competition, BC students ought not lose sight of the real goal: having a productive summer. Getting a summer internship is no guarantee of future success and is definitely not the only way to have a successful summer.