Coming straight from Yale College, Karen Burke ‘06 SOM ’08 had spent her summers interning at think-tanks — jobs that appealed to her as an ethics, politics and economics major but nonetheless left her “shooting in the dark” in regards to a possible career path.

Now, as a first-year MBA student at the Yale School of Management, she faces much more diverse and difficult choices in her hunt for an internship for the critical summer between the two years of business school.

In addition to starting a new section of the revamped core curriculum last week, Burke and the rest of the SOM class of 2008 are in the thick of the summer internship search process, a stressful process that lacks of some of the structure offered to Yale College students by Undergraduate Career Services. Despite the small size of the school, students face a bewildering array of options and choices that many hope will jump-start their career in one specific field or guide them away from another.

Most business schools highly recommend or require first-year students to take an internship in the summer between the first and second years of an MBA program, and the SOM is no exception. Dean Joel Podolny said internships can serve three purposes: to act as a “stepping stone” to specific career goals, to allow the participants to enter a new field or to help them move to a different level of an organization. Just as important, Podolny said, is the opportunity to use theoretical classroom knowledge in a real-life setting.

“For all, it’s an opportunity to consolidate and apply a lot of learning,” Podolny said.

In December and January of business school students’ first year, many internship-seeking students head to the SOM’s Career Development Office. Like UCS for undergraduates, the CDO manages workshops, posts job opportunities online and maintains a network of contacts, particularly in the popular fields of management consulting and investment banking, Director Allyson Moore said. Two weeks ago, the office hosted a large number of investment banks for interviews, a time commonly known as “super week.”

“From the student perspective, [the internship process] is an opportunity to test and explore,” Moore said.

With the pressure to identify a potential career path combined with the freedom of the search process, students said, the process of finding a summer internship is ridden with stressful moments.

The tension is especially acute for those who want to enter more specialized fields. Abby Goward SOM ’08 said that, at a time when many i-banking-oriented students have finalized their plans for the summer, the protracted search for a job in a niche field can be especially anxiety-filled. Looking for a position in the small but growing field of corporate social responsibility has presented a distinct challenge due to the nascency of the field, she said.

Members of the business school administration say they have taken steps to mitigate the pressure on students. The CDO has scheduled on-campus recruiting trips around student courses and maintains a database of individual students’ schedules to make sure interviews do not conflict with academics, Moore said.

“I think the balance is always one of the challenges of any MBA’s experience, but I’ve been very impressed with our students’ ability to stay committed to the classroom,” Podolny said.

But some students said they have been disappointed by the support structure for internship searches. Jon Gruber SOM ’08, who is seeking a position in the niche field of education consulting, said that the CDO’s focus on investment banking and consulting puts an extra burden on those looking at less conventional fields for internships. Gruber, whose background in teaching has influenced his choices for summer internships, must often deal on his own with desired employers, who do not recruit on the Yale campus, in setting up applications and interviews.

“For any route that’s not through one of the traditional doors, you have to be proactive and flexible and you have to pound the pavement,” he said. “The onus is on me to use all the resources that are available.”

Then there are those like Burke who are not set on a specific field and apply to a wide range of positions, which she said leads to a certain agony of ambiguity.

“I think it’s definitely true that the people who have come in not sure what they want to do probably have among the most stress, because you’re casting your net so wide,” Burke said.

One thing that all first-year MBAs at the SOM can agree on is that the process is a far cry from anything they have faced before.

“It’s definitely stressful, but its also something you need to keep in perspective,” Gruber said.