When asked, “What are you doing this summer?” I feel like I must immediately jump to the defensive. “I am working at a camp … It pays well … I get a great tan …” I begin spewing justifications for my deviation from the norm, but I know what they are thinking, “Oh, no internship?” Yeah, no summer internship for me. I’m not going to be creating Coca-Cola’s newest ad campaign, redesigning Nike’s logo or taping MTV’s latest masterpiece.
First, I must mention that I have relented to internship pressure twice before. I once practiced marketing for a national brand and learned wonderful lessons about the industry that I hope to enter. In another situation, my internship did not allow me to utilize my skills and offered little educationally. My point? I understand that internships can go either way, and I hope students are having positive experiences. To clarify, my goal is not to attack internships. I know they have the potential to be a gateway to employment. However, it is time to rethink the emphasis we place on acquiring internships.
What scares me about recent attitudes toward internships is students’ desperation to secure one. Searching Craigslist for a valuable internship is as good of an idea as searching Craigslist for a brain surgeon, but students are doing it anyway. Why? Because they have been pressured to believe that without an internship, they will spend eternity on the unemployment line. Despite what you have been told, your future does not depend on securing that one prestigious internship.
It is time to be empowered through the experiences that students gain outside the world of internships. Ithaca College students seem to thrive on involvement. We volunteer, explore the arts and compete in athletics. Our involvement has resulted in meaningful work experiences that often go undervalued. Students may gain more hands-on production experience by working for ICTV than by interning at their local television station. Team captains learn to lead successfully on and off the field, and volunteers learn community values. Believe it or not, applicable workplace experiences do exist outside of internships.
Internship enthusiasts often ignore the value of acquiring a traditional paid job. Internships are a luxury. Many students cannot validate unpaid work when empty wallets and impending debt are crying loudly for attention. Student workers who stack trays in the dining hall or organize books in the library are gaining far more than just a paycheck. They are learning valuable skills in organization, time management and customer service. While working on campus for the President’s Host Committee, I developed confidence as well as strong public-speaking and event-planning skills. My internships were not nearly as valuable.
If you have secured a meaningful internship this summer, I tip my hat to you. But if you are sweating just thinking about securing an internship, remember it isn’t the end of the world. Real-world experiences exist without the internship title. This summer, I will be a camp counselor for my fourth consecutive summer. I am forgoing the prestige of an internship to impact the lives of young children. Not only will I collect a paycheck, but I will grow as a leader, communicator and problem-solver. I will also have a smile on my face and a tan that cannot be acquired while getting coffee for the boss.
Perri Rumstein is a junior integrated marketing communications major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.