In May, LSA senior Bhoomika Gupta received a call that her internship was canceled due to COVID-19, similar to students across the country. Through networking, Gupta was able to successfully secure a virtual internship with a global nonprofit. 

Despite working this past summer, Gupta has not secured full-time employment. Gupta, who hopes to pursue a career in human resources, said the competitiveness of full-time recruiting has only been worsened by the economic uncertainty of the pandemic. 

“People aren’t recruiting as easily,” Gupta said. “Companies that are recruiting are really large companies that are, of course, aggressively competitive this semester, because everyone knows that very few companies are hiring.”

According to Gupta, who hopes to work in business human resources, the pandemic has forced seniors interested in similar fields to adjust their expectations and their recruiting timeline. 

“The Michigan norm is you recruit first semester, you’re done, second semester you get to relax and then you’re working. But this year, it’s going to be more of second-semester recruiting or at least until December, which is an interesting mental game,” Gupta said. “I think for many students, because you feel behind your peers, you feel like you’re not doing enough.”  

The University recently announced its plan for the winter term, which acknowledged unprecedented stressors students are facing and emphasized the importance of mental health. Though the search for professional opportunities against the backdrop of the pandemic has not been easy for many, the plan did not include anything specifically pertaining to enhanced career-related services. 

Kelly Day, an internship program manager at the LSA Opportunity Hub, said the office has various resources for students seeking internships. She pointed to the LSA Opportunity Network where internships are posted daily. 

“(We’re) trying to provide all the support that we can, and letting students know that it’s okay wherever you’re at in the situation, and it’s pretty normal to have some of these questions and concerns,” Day said. 

Limited job options have caused Gupta to contemplate alternative post-graduate opportunities such as graduate school. 

“I know something will work out,” Gupta said. “I’ve started thinking about grad school as well, because I’d rather be safe. Grad school was not something that was even in my plans for at least another five or six years.” 

But seniors applying to graduate or professional school have also faced pandemic-related challenges. LSA senior Yebin Lee spent her summer applying to dental school and had to scramble to find a new testing center for her canceled Dental Admission Test. 

Additionally, Lee’s summer job as a dental assistant was canceled, which has impacted a crucial component of her dental school applications. 

“I was supposed to work out in a dental office in Manhattan, and obviously everywhere in Manhattan got closed down because New York was having such a bad COVID crisis. So, I couldn’t work out there, and it was actually kind of a disaster for me,” Lee said. “I really needed experience, because they do require about a hundred hours of work experience.” 

Lee originally planned to graduate next semester, but she’s now going to graduate in December in order to work as a dental assistant. 

“If I graduate this semester, then I could work for about six months and then go to grad school, because I know grad schools are expensive,” Lee said. “I figured I should definitely do that before I can’t afford it anymore.”

Some students who graduated right at the onset of the pandemic are also still searching. After graduation in May, University alum Mary Rose Clark decided to take the summer off from applying to jobs due to COVID-19 hiring freezes. 

Since late August, she’s been actively looking for full-time opportunities in the philanthropy or development space, but she has not yet secured full-time employment. Clark said many of her peers who graduated in May have also been unable to secure full-time employment. 

“I’ve applied to numerous things. I’ve begun networking, especially in the past month, with lots of people around west Michigan and still have not heard anything back,” Clark said. “I’ve gotten mostly rejections, which I’ve heard that that’s very common, though, most people that I’ve talked to haven’t really heard back from anyone.”  

LSA senior Mackensie Freeman spent her summer working for a public relations agency based in Atlanta. Like Gupta, she secured this internship through networking after many of her other second-round interviews and offers were canceled.

Freeman has continued to work for this agency throughout the school year but said she feels she missed out on the full internship experience. 

“I definitely missed out on that whole aspect of corporate culture and getting to know your work, your coworkers,” Freeman said. 

With the timeline for returning to offices still uncertain, Day said she recognizes that the difficulty in securing an internship and working virtually will be prevalent this summer. 

“Based on what happened last summer, there’s still a lot of questions around. ‘Is this internship going to move forward in a virtual format?’” Day said. “Also, (students are still) thinking about, ‘If I am going to do a virtual internship, how can I make the most of it?’”

Employers have also had to adjust their hiring practices this year, especially with virtual career fairs. This was not ideal for some students as one-on-one meetings with recruiters filled up fast, adding to the competitiveness of recruiting. The COVID-19 crisis has been unique in the sense that some industries and companies have been devastated, while others have thrived, leaving students unsure about the shifting job opportunities. While research opportunities for students have struggled, graduates have still been able to find remote opportunities.

However, Day said she has heard from employers that they are better prepared this year for virtual internships, as they have had more time to plan. 

“Of course, last summer everything kind of happened in March, so it was a little bit of a time crunch to figure out what to do if you had planned on having in-person interns,” Day said. “(This summer), they are usually planning for at least a virtual option if in-person isn’t possible, depending on the vaccine timeline and everything.”

Freeman says the process has been stressful and has forced her to come up with a range of back-up options. 

“I’m just nervously checking LinkedIn,” Freeman said. “My mom also is having me applying to a grad program just in case everything fails.” 

Daily News Contributor Elizabeth Williams can be reached at 

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