College students lead extraordinarily fragmented lives. From September to May, they are in school, and from May through August they are not. This nearly equal balance between school and non-school time is hard to get used to, as it represents a dramatic departure from the conventions of high school schedules. But beyond forcing us to find something to do for four months, our extra long break pushes us to change the way we think about ourselves and our lives. Summer break is so long to allow us to have summer jobs and internships, in other words, to allow us to dip a toe into the world of adulthood. But we only get to play pretend adult for a few months before we are whisked back into the bubble of campus life.
This dual existence creates something of an identity crisis. Are we adults, or are students? Are we adults during the summer and students during the fall, winter, and spring? Or are we always both? Given this confusion, it’s no wonder that some students struggle when trying to formulate their summer plans. It’s difficult for us to know whether we should force ourselves to behave like full-fledged adults during the summer, or whether it’s okay to continue being a student for a little while longer. Doing the former means getting a job or paid internship in a city far from home, living by ourselves, and being as self-sufficient as we possibly can. Doing the latter means taking summer classes or returning home to take a familiar job as a camp counselor or babysitter.
Many of us have it ingrained in our minds that “adulting” during the summer is the highly preferable option. This idea comes from our peers, our parents, and the Career Center, and together, these forces have completely transformed the word “internship.” It used to be a word like any other, but now, just seeing or hearing the word is enough to make many students feel emotions that range from excitement to extreme stress and fear. They are worried that without a summer internship, they will have no chance in the job market when they graduate. Because of this notion, the internship search process becomes extremely stressful.
But the actual difficulty of securing a summer internship is only one part of what makes summer so difficult. The other part is that some of us don’t really want a summer internship, but we throw ourselves into the rat race because it is the thing to do, at least as far as campus culture is concerned. But there is another argument to be made, namely that our college years provide opportunities to have experiences that we simply won’t get to have once we truly enter the workforce. For example, there are many travel and study abroad programs that offer comprehensive travel experiences to college students with financial aid options. Birthright, which offers completely free trips to Israel for anyone under 27 of Jewish heritage, is just one example. However, I know of no programs that offer similar deals for adults. Therefore, there is a convincing argument that instead of using the summer to get a jump on being an adult, college students should be using their summers to fully enjoy being a student.
Many college students are aware of the unique opportunities that college offers, but they are also acutely cognizant of the professional pressures and expectations placed upon them. It seems that most students choose to acquiesce to those pressures rather than follow any desires they might have to do something different. And while participating in a summer internship is by no means a bad thing and is often a wonderful opportunity, I believe that students who initially felt drawn to other options will always be left wondering, “What if?”