I spent every summer break during college working a part-time job in my hometown. While I considered summer internships my first few summers, I was never confident enough in my skills or resume to actually apply to any. I wasn’t too upset with the prospect of working at a fun, low-stress job with coworkers that made it all worthwhile. However, as I progressed in my college career, I became acutely aware of my peers who were scoring prestigious summer internships at large investment banks and federal agencies.
When COVID-19 canceled my summer study abroad program in 2020, I was left with no backup plan and ended up back at the same part-time job. I remember feeling embarrassed about still working at the same place I had since I was a teenager. That embarrassment led me down a rabbit hole of disappointment, self-criticism and a devaluation of my worth. Reconfiguring my perception of what summer break is and can be has allowed me to reflect on those experiences positively. If you’re feeling down about your less-than-ideal summer plans, reframing your mindset can help the break be just as transformative as if you had gotten that dream internship.
As college students, we often feel pressured to look at summer break as a time to make money and gain industry experience. However, there are so many more possibilities that can come out of a well-utilized break from classes. The fact that the word “break” is what we call the months between school years isn’t for nothing. The pressure and stress college students face are greater than ever before. So often, college requires students to make sacrifices. When trying to juggle a heavy course load, extracurriculars, part-time work and a social life, it is easy for the parts of ourselves that seem less productive to fall through the cracks. Leisure reading, making artwork or other hobbies and personal projects become victims of wishful thinking. Summer break is a great opportunity to reconnect with the parts of ourselves that all too often fade away during the busy academic year.
Summer break can also provide the time and mental space for discovering new passions. Especially for students earlier in their college career, the extra time that summers provide can be used to explore new majors or career paths. Though it may feel most pertinent to figure those things out during the school year, being out of class can allow for a more thoroughly thought-out plan for choosing what to study and what career to pursue. Even if those new passions are only hobbies, they can still have major benefits. Hobbies and recreational activities can improve our mental health and help us identify the ways that we best cope with stress. I often feel guilty about not having enough hobbies because I get too busy with school and work. Working a part-time job over the summer afforded me the time to pursue my interests outside of the classroom, which may not have been possible had I landed a full-time summer internship.
Another misconception about working a part-time job, especially in the service industry, is that while you may be acquiring skills, they aren’t the “right” skills. It is easy to undervalue a person’s experience in a part-time job. However, highly valuable skills in the workforce, including skills in communication, problem-solving and teamwork, are the foundation of many of the tasks that such jobs require. In interviews, I’ve found myself avoiding talking about the part-time summer job I have listed on my resume because of the negative way I think the interviewer will perceive that experience. However, some of my greatest strengths and skills have been developed through that job. More times than not, when I have answered an interviewer’s question with an example from that summer job, they have been impressed with the professional skills I am able to relay through those experiences. It isn’t always necessarily about what you do for work, but rather how you articulate the skills you’ve gained that matter.
While industry experience during college can look great to companies during the post-grad job search, a summer job in your chosen field isn’t the only way to get the career you want. Internships have been criticized for being exploitative, especially those that are unpaid, and for having interns do menial work. A study done by LiveCareer found that of those surveyed, 93% of respondents reported doing menial work during their internship. Though a job description may tout the exciting responsibilities of the internship, it is not guaranteed this will be reflected in the actual work the intern takes on. Steadfastly supporting internships also fails to take into account that the experiences gained and the professional connections made can be strongly impacted by the supervisor. If a supervisor isn’t committed to supporting the intern in their work and with their career aspirations, the value ascribed to internships falls flat.
The mindset that part-time summer jobs will define our futures is misguided. Our worth is more than the side jobs we take to make some extra money. Not being able to land an esteemed internship doesn’t mean you have any less worth than the person who got the position. The most qualified person is not always the person who gets the job, so it’s important to remind ourselves that just because someone else can’t see our worth doesn’t mean it’s not there. A summer job is just one stepping stone on the path to a dream career.
Theodora Vorias is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.