Through speaking with my peers and friends, I know I am not alone in thinking for a long time that things would be relatively “normal” by this summer. Especially with the beginning of the vaccine rollout in December, I was confident that by June I would be vaccinated and the pandemic would be much more under control.
While the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has decreased, the vaccine rollout has problems. With the University of Michigan still in Phase 1b of vaccinations and the continuous weekly emails about how the University is behind on its original vaccination goals, I am now skeptical that I will be able to get the vaccine by the end of the winter semester.
One summer in a pandemic was difficult enough for college students. Internships were canceled, travelling and immersive experiences were put on hold, and any programming that did happen was mostly remote. When I began my search for what I wanted to do this summer, most programs mentioned that they would likely be virtual and that there was still a chance of them being canceled last minute given the level of uncertainty surrounding the future state of the pandemic.
Summer programs are usually a time for college students to try out fields of interest and explore what they want to do after college. Whether an internship is a good or bad experience, it allows the student to gain clarity on what they want to study and pursue. Two summers in a pandemic could prevent college students from gaining hands-on experience to enhance their studies and confirm that they are on the right track.
Because many undergraduate students were unable to participate in summer internships or programming last summer, there is a lot of pressure to find something this summer. Whether or not a program gets canceled is mostly based on luck, but the students who are able to gain experience to add to their résumé will be ahead of those who aren’t as lucky.
In my experience, reliable, engaging and in-person internships are extremely hard to find. Furthermore, the few I did find were extremely competitive because options are so limited. The summer application process has been a point of stress and anxiety for many students this school year.
Even if a majority of internships are not canceled this summer, the likelihood of them being in-person and offering the programming they would in “normal” times seems unlikely. When adapting to a pandemic world, in-person internships will have to sacrifice parts of their programming such as large meetings, collaborative projects and team building that would normally enrich the internship experience. And internships that are fully remote and involve staring at a screen all day make it challenging for students to evaluate if this is a field they want to pursue further.
There are multiple consequences of these pandemic summers that could have serious implications for the futures of current undergraduate students. One potential impact is that students will not be able to determine if they dislike an industry or career path during college. Internships help students decide whether a career is appealing to them, so not having that opportunity could lead many to make mistakes in their first job out of college.
Another potential consequence of not being able to engage in hands-on immersive summer experiences is that students may need to try out different fields and industries after graduation, since they did not have the opportunity during their college summers. Getting a job out of college is already stressful, and now it will be many students’ first time working in the field outside of an academic setting. Many might have to test multiple jobs post-graduation to truly figure out what they want to pursue.
While virtual internships still offer experience and useful skills, to me, the possibility of an entire summer on Zoom did not seem worth the benefits. I began looking at outdoor non-academic experiences that have, so far, seemed less likely to be canceled and can take place in-person. Summer jobs such as working at a camp or in a national park and programs such as Outward Bounds, Northern Outdoor Leadership School and Overland offer a break from Zoom and an environment that is much easier modified to follow pandemic guidelines.
A worry for many college students when considering outdoor programs compared to a job or internship in their field is that they will not develop applicable skills to their studies and that their résumé will not be as strong. However, students have the remainder of their lives to work in an office environment and develop technical skills. Working as a camp counselor or leading an outdoor expedition provides participants with experience regarding leadership, responsibility, delegation and independence that are applicable to most work environments.
Undergraduate students must understand that if they are unable to find the perfect internship or academic program this summer, it is not a reflection of their application but rather the challenges employers are facing in offering internships. Even internships themselves may not offer the experience and growth they would in normal times and alternative summer plans should be embraced as a great and unique option.
Lizzy Peppercorn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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