How will you spend your summer? Many of us spend more months considering this question than we do at our internships.
We send applications with our cover letters, résumés and transcripts to potential employers in hopes that they will consider us for internships or, in the case of fellowship applications, so they will consider us for funding to study a topic of our choosing. We spend hours sending these applications, days worrying about where we were accepted to work, weeks deciding which offer to accept and months in the internship.
Our performances in these internships will affect us for years to come. The potential effect of an internship on one’s career goals and thus one’s life goals is undeniable. This is bad.
The internship, as it is currently conceived, is meant to prepare us for either graduate school or the vocation we are considering entering. There are exceptions to this rule, to be sure, but even those exceptions are preparation for post-college vocational opportunities in ways we do not fully appreciate. Our current system is structured so that we feel we must spend our summers padding our résumés. If we fail to add things to our list of accomplishments, we will lose our spots to others who are more eager, more talented, more determined to beat us to the top of the mighty ziggurat.
The systemization of the internship is a phenomenon that does not stretch back all that far. Ask your parents how they spent their summers during college and I bet you will find it similar to the ways you spent your summers during high school. Did they spend a summer lifeguarding? Working at the local ice cream shop? Working at the sleepaway camp they attended as teens? The father of a friend of mine, destined for admission at a top-tier law school, told me he spent the summer before his senior year in college apprenticing for a man who built typewriters.
Some of our parents may have scored swank internships in congressmen’s offices. But there was less jockeying for prestigious internships, even though the number of prestigious internships was less than it is today. Fear not. Despite the disadvantages previous generations of Yalies overcame, success was still attainable — or at least as attainable as it is today. So, then, what justification could there possibly be for the idea of the internship as it is currently conceived?
It is not a justification to argue that one must hold an internship to stay competitive with one’s peers. This is an argument for an individual to take an internship but not an argument to justify the current system.
It is not a justification to argue that an internship is fun. Though many of us have fond memories of summers spent in hot office buildings, when we consider the internship experience compared to a summer at the beach or traveling or hiking in the mountains or any of the other traditional ways summers have been spent, it becomes clear that the internship carries an opportunity cost of fun.
It is not a justification to argue that students need to make money during the summer to afford the high costs of a Yale education. Holding a job over the summer existed prior to the idea of the internship. Some internships give large compensation, but this has less to do with the internship process and more to do with the dynamism of the American economy (1776–2008, Reqiescat in Pace) and opportunities made available to the whole of the citizenry.
The only potential justification I can see for the current system is one that centers on our responsibility to prepare ourselves as future leaders of society. A Yale education is a great opportunity, but it comes with a large responsibility, primarily a civic responsibility. To only use nine of the 12 months to cultivate our abilities does not fully embrace that responsibility.
And yet, of all the problems to associate with Yale students or future leaders, a lack of time spent attempting to ascend the ziggurat is at the bottom of my worries. We worry about this to excess.
Instead, I want us to spend summers that, rather than reinforce the lessons learned during the semester, act as checks against this constant climb. I want summers that ground us in our community, that instill in us a sense of familial duty, that remind us that our striving is not an end in itself.
Adam Lior Hirst is a junior in Branford College.