The Internship and You: How to Survive Summer

It’s almost March; we’re rounding the corner into the home stretch of the school year. Maybe you’re a freshman with no declared major, or maybe you’re a junior looking for an internship to get something to put in the “related experience” section of your résumé. You probably need money after all those trips to Canyon Pizza or the Shandygaff or the End Zone bookstore, and you will need even more money later (namely, a job) for after you graduate.

Internships have now become the foundation of entry into a career field, in some cases effectively replacing the “entry level.” Not only are they increasingly necessary for advancing your career (sounds strange to say as a 20-year-old), but they aren’t easy to get and are often unpaid. You can’t get a job because you don’t have experience, and you can’t get that experience if you don’t get hired somewhere.

According to Inside Higher Ed, interns were paid 2 percent higher last summer than in 2012, but they were paid 6.4 percent higher in 2011 than in 2010. On average, interns were paid $13.50 an hour in 2012, but a lot of industries actually saw lower wages last summer than previously; what brought the average up were internships in those two seemingly magical job fountains, business and engineering. Great for them, but what about the rest of us?

I’m an English major. People ask me if I’m going to be a teacher and I tell them no, but that’s a rant for another day. It’s not a major that directly leads to a defined career path like something specific such as Aerospace Engineering does. But what that does mean is that the internships most directly related to what I’m focusing on — creative writing — are usually unpaid. Making matters worse, my savings have been pretty thinly stretched thanks to a study abroad stint last spring. Maybe you’re not in a humanities major, but even if you aren’t, if you don’t have something lined up, you’re definitely facing this dilemma, and you’re probably pretty scared, confused, or any combination of both. And I’m right there with you.

You have a few options. First, obviously, if you land that paid internship, congratulations. You’ve got the best of both worlds; you’ll get directly related experience toward that full-time job you want later, and you’ll have money to put some gas in the car to drive to the Jersey Shore for the 4th of July to drink beer with your friends.

Second, if you can swing an unpaid internship with a company that you really want to work with, to start directly on the path you want at graduation, that’s great. You’ll probably be living at home anyway, but this helps a lot if you live near a big city, like New York, Philadelphia, or Washington D.C. where lots of big companies are. If you have to pay rent there, this makes the whole venture a lot less manageable. Definitely try to get a part-time job on top of it if you can. For me, this means if I’m interning at a small literary magazine that can’t afford to pay an intern, I’m probably going to be delivering pizza at night. Your summer may be nonstop, and not in the good kind of way, but it’s only three months until you’re back at school, and it’ll help you avoid the Ramen-only diet.

If your internship falls through, you can always just look for a regular summer job. And if the supermarket where you worked in high school isn’t hiring, temp agencies can be a great resource for finding summer work, and at more than minimum wage if you’re lucky. For two summers, I worked in the mailroom at a corporate headquarters. It was just boring as it sounds, and the building it was in had no windows, but it was easy and air-conditioned and I made decent money. Also my expenses were almost zero because I was living at home. It’s really not as bad as it sounds. I probably learned more about the “real world” by working there than I did anywhere else. From people whose full-time job it was working there, I learned a bit about how to start out when you don’t have much to work with, money or education or otherwise. And I counted the seconds until five o’ clock every day when I was there, but it really ended up being a valuable experience.

And, of course, you could stay in Happy Valley for the summer, take some classes, party it up at night with friends, and get a job somewhere downtown. Beware if you’re looking for a summer job, though because employment is limited, so start looking early. It gets empty and kind of calm (save Arts Fest), so it’s lonelier than you might think, but if you need or want more classes, it’s something to think about, and probably the next best thing compared to that amazing summer after high school with beaches and fireworks and nonstop parties.

Employment for college students and graduates is obviously a big issue right now. You can argue whether companies should have to pay their interns so you’re not working full-time for free, or about the grunt work they may or may not have to do, but regardless, it’s the system we live in. And it’s not perfect, especially when the economy isn’t recovering as well we we’d like, but at the end of the day, you need some type of experience to get a job. So though it may be less than ideal, I’ve found more and more that summer has become a time of biting the bullet. But you may get more out of it in a place you’d never expect.

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About the Author

Dan McCool

Dan is a senior and has been writing for Onward State since January 2010. Did you miss him? Nah, neither did we. He's returning after a semester abroad in England and will be serving as Arts Editor. Favorite things in life include references to The Big Lebowski.

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