At Tufts University the student population is unique, diverse and impressive. At the end of each school year, students begin a three-month absence from the structured rigors of college to perform a range of jobs, internships, research, and everything in between. Tufts’ students run the gambit on summer activities, and it seems that many students share similar end goals with differing approaches to achieve them. After conducting interviews of a cross section of the Tufts population, one reoccurring theme became evident: Tufts students are interested in becoming more competitive in the job or graduate school market, while also confirming perceived interests or values. There is a constant push for students to have relevant experience, which can only be gained from competitive, and often unpaid, internships.
Times have changed; the days of relaxing and enjoying a quiet summer have given way to a drive for more competitive, relevant, and sometimes expensive summer opportunities. Students are forced to make the tough decision between making money at a traditional summer job, at a movie theater or café, for example, and seeking internships and overseas experience. It is common that these internships or experiential programs are unpaid, or come with large price tags. But for what reasons are students moving away from traditional summer employment? In the current job market, where new hires must stand out among similarly qualified candidates, there is an ever-pressing need for more applicable summer employment and activities. Whether it means taking summer classes, studying a language abroad, or interning in a particular industry, unique and applicable experiences hone valuable skills that can be applied to a future career. The summer has become a time to get ahead.
When speaking with current Tufts students, many expressed the perceived need to either finish a class that they couldn’t fit in during a standard year, or build up their resumes as quickly as possible. All the while, they try to maintain some vacation free time and earn money. Invariably, some students choose, or are forced to take, traditional jobs over the summer while their peers participate in any number of other pursuits. The outcomes, however, indicate a reality that does not always sync with the current movement towards internships, or non-traditional experience. One student felt that she had gained more valuable life experience from working at a restaurant than she had at a government non-profit. Another, that his work at a financial firm was very limiting, and he gained little real-world work understanding. Yet, when building a resume, our instinct is to shy away from non-industry affiliated work, such as spending the summer at a restaurant, and focus on interning at a relevant business. This trend has major repercussions for those students who may not be able to afford an unpaid internship or summer classes, or who must work during the summer. It is possible that these students may be losing a competitive edge on paper, even though traditional summer employment offers valuable working skills.
Taking advantage of summer opportunities is, above all, about bettering oneself. Taking classes, learning a foreign language, working, or interning all enrich the college experience while also providing valuable life skills. In the competitive and constantly changing environment that is the graduate school and job market, students must realize their choices, decisions, and sacrifices have future implications.