Remember what summer used to be like? Lounge chairs and sand between your toes, adorable children at that summer camp you worked at, raking in the minimum wage working retail or while working on your tan as the local YMCA lifeguard?
If you’re a Northwestern student, you probably don’t. Now when you think of summer, you probably just think of business-casual dress codes and tedious office drudgery. The patio’s been overtaken by a gray, windowless cubicle, the popsicle has been replaced by a Starbucks latte, and forget about that tan: The only rays you’re catching are from fluorescent lights.
For those of you who haven’t caved to the pressure and are part of the non-interning masses, with summer looming on the horizon you might suddenly be feeling something like this: “Oh my god, I’m the only person in the universe without an internship my resumé’s going to suck forever and I’ll never get a job because I have no qualifications and I’m a useless silly waste of oxygen and everyone hates me and my life is pain oh no oh no.”
And that is completely wrong.
Not that internships are useless. According to Medill professor Steven Duke, they’re still valuable for a variety of reasons.
“You can learn a lot in the classroom,” Duke said, “but no matter how hard we try, classrooms are never the same as real experience. It doesn’t have the pace or the pressure or the expectations that are present in a real job.”
But the primary benefit, according to Duke, isn’t just the workplace lifestyle — you know, dingy lighting, hours spent trying to resist the urge to go Office Space on the photocopier — it’s your boss, and his or her potential for serving as an impressive reference. Regardless of how respected your professor is in his chosen field, his recommendation doesn’t hold as much weight as someone who has seen you work outside of academia, five days a week, in a real work environment.
According to Lonnie Dunlap, director of University Career Services, internships are helpful in some fields, especially business-related ones, but not as essential in others.
“You really need to know how internships function based on what your area of interest is,” Dunlap said. It’s the experiential learning that’s important — and there are plenty of other ways to get that, and they’re probably a lot more interesting.
Anti-internship solution: Get a job doing something else. If you want to make money, find something that pays. If you don’t, volunteering is equally valid; find something fun that still carries some responsibility.
You don’t need an internship to meet Duke’s recommendations, just a boss. “Reliability, work ethic, diligence, timely arrival at work: All those [are] things that matter to an employer,” Duke said. They’re things you can display without selling yourself to the internship machine. Once you get a real job, you won’t be able to hang out at the animal shelter for hours anymore.
“Students really need to sort out how they want to use their summer and what opportunities are open to them,” Dunlap said. “Employers recognize the value of multiple types of experiences, and it doesn’t have to be a field that’s directly related to what you’re entering.”
If you’re in Medill, chances are that you’re even more freaked out than some of your Weinberg counterparts, thanks to the somewhat-inherently-spastic nature of your journalist peers — and completely without reason. “At Medill, if you’ve got your [Journalism Residency internship] and no other internships, you’re still ok,” Duke said. “I would not obsess about this.”
According to Dunlap, it’s “very unrealistic” to have an internship all three summers of your Northwestern career; most are done between junior and senior year, and the internship fog is creeping into the summer following sophomore year.
“Between your freshman and sophomore year it’s important to experience what [you want],” Dunlap said. “Exploration is really, really important.”
And you can let the contacts bit slide a little. One of the perks of shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars of tuition means that you’re pretty hooked up — maybe not with your peers right now, but with a fairly impressive network of accomplished people.
“Be aware of what decisions you’re making and how you’re making your decisions — that’s more important,” Dunlap said. Don’t blindly follow the interning masses.
If the thought of interning makes you want to curl up under your desk or burn every suit you own, the benefits — work experience, someone to write you a nice letter of recommendation — don’t outweigh the cost of losing your summer. So really, take a vacation. Even the professionals say you can relax. Not getting an internship won’t cripple your chances in the career market forever.
If you really want a summer internship, go ahead. But if you don’t want one? Don’t get one. Don’t let the overachiever pressure cooker stop you from being happy. If you’d rather spend your summer gallivanting around Europe with nothing but a change of clothes and your passport, do it. Be a camp counselor. Hole up in a tiny cabin in Vermont and write poetry by yourself. Hop in your friend’s car and make a pilgrimage to every tacky Midwestern roadside attraction.
Even if you’re not planning on spending your summer anywhere but on the beach, stop letting your friends who decided to be office minions give you an inferiority complex.
“I would not be overly concerned as a freshman or a sophomore,” Duke said. “I don’t know that you necessarily need four [internships] by the time you graduate, but it’s certainly helpful if you have at least one.”
One, Northwestern overachievers. Not seven. So if you want to devote your off time to developing the perfect tan and reading Gossip Girl so you can spoil future episodes for your friends, you’re allowed. Hell, you’re entitled.