How did we all get to Cornell University? Top grades. A towering G.P.A. Add in a little bit of philanthropy. Insert one or two “exotic” experiences. Throw in a unique talent, bonus points for medal-winning debate, athletics or chess ability. Given our “holistic” admissions process, it seems we all got to Cornell with varying recipes of the same repertoire of experience.
Granted, this is expected in an institution where high grades and academic scholarship is a must. What follows, however, is a rigid logic of success in college. The logic goes as such: Grab a fancy internship out of freshman year; get an even flashier one out of sophomore year; lock in a premier internship out of junior year and set yourself up for a return offer after graduation. Consequently, as the logic narrates, one missed summer internship is like a fatal Jenga move — all comes tumbling down, one’s future included.
This logic is implicit, embedded in our daily happenings. It’s a creeping anxiety and looming pressure to conform, or else risk being left undesired in the labor pool. Yet, the reality is that this is a false logic. One summer — or even multiple — outside of the set internship-to-job pipeline will not foil your future. Instead, it will allow for enough enrichment, independent thinking, creativity and self-directed exploration that will set one apart in a sea full of like candidates.
There are a plethora of opportunities for students to undertake. Let’s start with Cornell itself. These are the fast and few years in which we can fully take part in all that Cornell has to offer, summer included. One can stay on campus where there is a whole host of courses to take, leadership programs, language programs, Outdoor Odyssey trips, research opportunities and the like (most with funding available). Off-campus, Cornell has much to offer as well: art studios in Rome, European politics in Turin, language-learning in Madrid, law courses in Paris, language programs in China and marine exploration at Shoals Laboratory (again, most with funding available). In each of these programs, one directs their own learning, steps out of their comfort zone and carves out their own unique set of experiences.
Instead of being left to define for ourselves what “fulfilling” means, it is too often dictated to us. This comes in many variations. Sure, some enjoy straight-forward, career-focused internships, but the dominant narrative that makes internships a prerequisite for success precludes anyone from otherwise defining it for themselves. A fulfilling summer to some may mean doing social work, mentoring youth, leading a summer camp, working with a professor on research, designing one’s own project or startup, writing a book at home, joining a band, going backpacking with friends or being home with family.
It’s important to reflect on what’s best for ourselves. Maybe after being slammed with school work from August to May, what we really need is a break. There’s much to be said about a campus culture that while increasingly recognizing the salience of mental health and wellness, nonetheless demands a totalizing and toxic notion of career success. In the end, our choice for how to spend the summer should be an introspective one, not one we assume from external social pressures.
Many of us didn’t arrive at Cornell knowing what career we wanted to pursue. When asked where we would see ourselves in five years, our answers were fuzzy and undefined. However, our most informative and meaningful experiences are often the ones we never envisioned for ourselves, the ones right off the beaten path, the ones unparalleled and unique to only ourselves. There is a sense of confidence, poise and richness of character that emanates from those who diverge from the set path, the path we’ve been spoon-fed to follow for years. We could all benefit from a little time to think for ourselves and spend one of our last remaining free summers in a way that we will cherish.
Laura DeMassa and Canaan Delgado are sophomores at Cornell University. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take appears every other Tuesday.