My summer plans are currently as fleeting as sequins falling through a kaleidoscope. Some days, I see myself in a country abroad, conducting research on a not-yet-named project for a not-yet-planned senior thesis in anthropology. Other days, I get that internship I want on Capitol Hill, and I am working on fact sheets and presenting on health policy. Still others, I am in New Haven, dutifully studying for the Medical College Admission Test. Round and round the dial spins, completely out of my control, as the vision of my ideal summer continuously constructs itself, only to morph into something totally new a few seconds later.
When people ask what I am doing this summer, all the above images flash through my mind before I answer candidly, “I don’t know.”
A triumph of a liberal arts education is that students feel that they have a diverse skill set that makes them adaptable to a range of environments and prepared to engage with any research project of their choosing. Recently, though, the onslaught of fellowship deadlines and the half-finished applications piling up on my desktop have been making my goals and plans feel fragmented and rushed.
Yale teaches students to think in timelines: You have four years to finish a degree, two semesters to finish a distributional requirement, one week to write an essay, an hour and a half to take a midterm. For academics, it makes sense to be on a timeline: Assignments need to get done, and classes need to be taken.
Timelines don’t make sense when they are applied to students’ pre-professional careers. Most job applications posted on Symplicity are due in January, though the jobs themselves don’t start until June. If you want to go into consulting, you have to start thinking about your plans in October of the year before, some students starting to stress as early as August about their summer plans. The Center for International and Professional Experience common application, which provides fellowships for independent research and unpaid internships, is due February 14, yet many unpaid internships don’t notify applicants of their selection until March.
Having such strict timelines in place floods students with unwarranted anxiety and worry that not finalizing summer plans early is a failure of self. To compensate for this fear, students overapply for summer opportunities, pulling on every thread of their liberal arts education to fit the mold of any number of jobs. Some of these jobs align with their interests, some students apply to them because the application is short and some apply only because everyone else seems to be applying to them.
Yesterday, a meme posted on the Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens Facebook group showed an obscure internship opening, with the caption reading, “when ur internship search is getting desperate.” I suppose desperate is exactly the word that many students are feeling. It sucks to miss deadlines because you aren’t ready to apply. It’s stressful to get job rejections amidst midterms and have to quickly decide which new jobs to pursue as a replacement. The question “What are you doing this summer?” is thrown around as carelessly in the spring as “Let’s get a meal sometime” is in the fall.
What is important to remember is that self-development does not happen on a timeline and that becoming a “professional” certainly does not. The nerve-wracking part of looking for a job in February is that someone is going to ask you about your plans and you are going to have to tell them the truth: You don’t have any yet. And it is OK for that to feel stressful, especially for those students whose families financially depend on them or for those who cant go home for the summer.
What is not okay is for students to feel that their worth is diminished by their inability to get plans confirmed, funded and set as early as possible. We, as students, need to stop contributing to this culture by continuously asking our friends about their plans. Next time you have the urge to ask someone about their summer plans, ask instead about their day. Ask about a class they are excited to be taking. Ask about their favorite self-care routine. Ask about something that feels controllable and concrete. For many of us, the kaleidoscope is spinning too fast for us to answer any other question anyway.
Noora Reffat is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at email@example.com .