Alternatives to summer internships

    Now that winter has only just arrived, it's time to start thinking about your summer. Look around you, you pre-professional-minded, future-oriented Northwestern students! Do you see your peers landing sweet internships with your dream employers? Have your efforts to do the same resulted in sad rejection? Or do you crave a different kind of summer, one filled with paychecks, personal growth, real-world experience and travel?


    Especially if you’ve never had a job before, go get one – and look for perks. Score awesome employee discounts working at your favorite retailer, or eat all summer long as a cashier at your favorite frozen yogurt/dessert shop/restaurant back home.

    Amanda Keresztesy, a freshman in McCormick, got to see movies for free with all the popcorn she wanted last summer, when she worked in the snack shop of a drive-in movie theater in Chardon, OH.

    But her favorite part was feeling like she was part of something bigger than herself. “Drive-in movie theaters are dying, you know, they’re not that common. So I felt like I was part of this elite little club of what was left, like I was helping keep them alive. And I got to see the behind-the-scenes of a place I grew up going to,” she said.

    Plus, you’ll build your resume, meet different people, expand your people skills and get paid.

    Personal growth and paychecks (and maybe even travel)

    Every summer, hordes of college students work as summer camp counselors, improving interpersonal skills and taking on responsibilities that internships wouldn’t necessarily require.

    Matthew Middleton, a junior majoring in economics, taught stand-up paddle-boarding the past two summers as a counselor at Skylake Yosemite Camp – an experience he said was unbelievable not just because of the beautiful setting, but because it provided for personal growth, as well.

    The skills Middleton brushed up on included “creative engagement, public speaking – stand-up paddleboarding – learning to work with kids, learning to work on a team and cooperate with people around you, and learning that it really matters to be a piece of something bigger than yourself.”

    “I think the reason people are afraid to work at summer camps is because they’re scared it will compromise their skills, but I would say that I’m a very skilled person,” said Middleton. “I proved that at summer camp, instead of proving that at a traditional internship.”

    And it wouldn’t be difficult to apply, said Taylor Salit, a sophomore who has worked at Camp Chipinaw in upstate New York for the past two summers. “Especially if you go to a school like Northwestern, you’re clearly a dedicated student and a diligent person.”

    Personal growth and travel (and maybe even some money)

    Summer programs abound at Northwestern – programs that Genevieve Amaral, the graduate assistant and the Office of Fellowships, recommends students to explore. “I know students think internships are really important in their professional paths, but it’s also very important to realize that all kinds of experiences are valued by graduate schools, law schools and future employers,” she said.

    She specifically recommends the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright summer program, which exclusively accepts freshmen and sophomores and even pays for round-trip airfare, tuition, accommodation, and food.

    Amaral attended a similar study abroad program at the Université Laval in Quebec, during the summer of her junior year. “My French improved dramatically, and now I’m a French Ph.D.,” said Amaral, who is a Canadian citizen. “I got to know Canadians from all across the country, and it was extremely fulfilling and key to my professional goals.”

    The program was affordable, too – the Canadian government provided a generous stipend for Amaral to study there. “I even had money left at the end of the summer to buy souvenirs,” she said.

    Personal growth and real-world experience (and maybe even travel and some money)

    If your aim is to fill up your resume with really cool experiences, Northwestern has that, too. The Leadership Alliance provides grants for students in underrepresented groups to work as research assistants for specialists at different universities. Even after acceptance into the program, Amaral said that faculty will continue to mentor students as part of their mission to “increase the pipeline of these underrepresented groups to graduate schools.”

    But if you’re looking for more of an others-based summer, look into service projects. The Engage Chicago program places students into a not-for-profit organization in Chicago, and the Global Engagement Studies Institute “parachutes [students] into an existing organization for health, education, and development projects” around the world.

    Especially for those interested in more prestigious fellowships and graduate school applications, “it’s important to build your resume with research projects in other schools and summer grants to go to different places,” said Amaral.

    At Northwestern, the Office of Undergraduate Research and even the Weinberg college provide money that undergraduates can use to pursue their own projects – like criss-crossing the U.S. on a tour of the nation’s music festivals.

    Nathan Frazer, a senior studying economics and urban studies, did just that. “I looked at music festivals from the perspective of the community: what draws people to [them], why people go and why music communities are good at building relationships,” he said.

    Frazer received 3000 dollars for travel from the WCAS Summer Research Grant and visited seven festivals in total, and two of them by himself. “One of the most beautiful things of music festivals [was] bonding with people over shared passion and interests,” he said.

    It also adds to his resume in a way that differentiates him from other candidates. “I had an experience with a lot of autonomy,” said Frazer. “It’s more telling when someone does a research project they’re passionate about – it tells more of a story.”

    Frazer said he would definitely endorse pursuing a research project at Northwestern. “At school, people put on a lot of pressure to get internships, but I would recommend thinking about the things that inspired them the most and the things they’re most passionate about.”

    “Northwestern has so much money,” he continued. “If you’re able to communicate that passion, you can get money to do almost anything.”

    So put aside the whole corporate internship. This summer is for you to explore yourself outside a traditional school or work setting.

    “Try to be autonomous in what you do,” said Frazer.


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