Dread. Disappointment. Procrastination. All of these words come to mind when we think of the internship hunt. Most Cornell students spend the first semester and the front end of the second semester embroiled in it. The stress and frustration festers in the back of our minds throughout the process. Until we get that coveted acceptance email, we know there’s always work to do. Even when you’ve finished all your schoolwork, called your parents and done your laundry, LinkedIn and Handshake await.
By sophomore year, most of us are experienced enough to navigate the search with relative ease. Freshman year is quite a different story. Many freshmen have never gone through a competitive application process before, besides the college process. They hear others talking of prestigious summer jobs, and, being Cornell students, are sucked into the career-paranoia that surrounds driven young adults like us. Freshmen let others press their visions and goals upon them, and find themselves burdened by unneeded stress.
I was caught in the same trap last year as a freshman. At the beginning of the year, I had no thought about what I was doing over the summer. I guess I assumed I would be working a part-time job in my hometown again. Yet, a few months in, the topic of summer internships began coming up again and again. Many of my friends were applying to prestigious programs in New York and Washington, D.C. It made me feel anxious, inadequate and ill prepared for an environment like Cornell. I started looking for summer internships around that time, but frankly, I had no idea how to go about doing that. My hunt was extremely inefficient and, in the end, unsuccessful. I certainly could have gotten help from the many organizations at Cornell that provide career services, but I was an inexperienced freshman who didn’t know where to look and was probably too proud to ask for help if I did.
The stress got worse in the spring semester. I joined a fraternity, and I talked a lot with the older members in the first few weeks. I ended up hearing quite a bit about what they had done or were going to do during the summer. This only served to exacerbate my self-induced pressure to start my career in my freshman summer.
I continued my search, combing the University of Maryland career board — and neglecting Cornell’s, for some reason — and other lists. By March, I had one offer at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. I know I would have liked the work, and I would have had a place to live at my aunt’s apartment in the area, but I turned it down because it was unpaid. I instead worked two part-time jobs at home.
At first, I felt my decision was miserly and that I had ignored what was good for me in the long run. But, by the end of the summer, I realized I had done the right thing.
The summer before my freshman year at Cornell, I hadn’t realized what I was really doing by leaving home. I wasn’t just leaving temporarily to go to school; by going off to college, I was leaving forever. Sure, I would spend short breaks at the house I grew up in, but I would never really live there again. Its residents would always be my family, but no longer could I really refer to that house as my home.
I was glad I spent one last summer back in my hometown with my family and friends. I made amazing memories, this time with a mind for my future. Working at the local gas station and pizza shop helped me make lasting connections with locals I had never met before. I spent countless afternoons at the lake with my friends and family. I knew, all the while, that it was the last time I would live in my hometown, and I made the most of it.
Every path is different. For a student set on a career in finance, internships will be more important and on a different timeline than a student majoring in environmental science set on law school. Finding an internship will be more urgent for a junior going into consulting than a freshman with undecided career plans. Don’t let your goals get entangled in those of others.
Freshmen, furthering your career is important. But there are so many other things in your life to balance and treasure. Cherish your roots and the other important things in your life; don’t get too caught up in the fast-paced environment of Cornell.
Christian Baran is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Honestly runs every other Friday this semester.