Opinion: Internships Aren't Everything

Photo from Pixabay

Photo from Pixabay

In the first month of my first year of college, I went to my first debate tournament at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, NY, where I promptly broke my foot. All my plans for staying ahead of homework, finding an internship, exploring New York City, and traveling for debate were dashed.

Two years later, I am grateful that the physical limitations of my injury forced me to reevaluate my priorities. At the time, however, coming to terms with realistic expectations for my first year was difficult—in part because of the narrative that internships are an essential element of a successful freshman experience at King’s. In various ways, freshman at the college are bombarded with the message that they should find an internship as soon as possible. This contributes to a harmful culture within the student body, while distracting new students from other activities that may be better suited to advance their career and enrich their personal development during their first year.

King’s encourages freshmen to consider the internships they will pursue in New York City before they even apply to the college. The promotional video for the Founders Scholarship, the school’s full-tuition grant, displays inspiring shots of the city skyline as a voiceover states: “They call it an alpha city and you want to be a part of it, to do something great. You don’t want to wait four years to get started. You want to start opening doors right now. And so you’re going after that best, first step: a dream internship in the most influential city on the planet.” This message can create an environment that pressures, rather than inspires.

And freshmen, beware: If you choose wrong, it could define not just your college experience, but your entire life.

And freshmen, beware: If you choose wrong, it could define not just your college experience, but your entire life. In the same video for Founders, King’s tells students to “feel the weight of how that dream internship is going to change the course of your career.” While this may be a selling point for the admissions department, it can be harmful to students who take the message to heart.

This existential pressure is not just applied during the application process. At New Student Orientation, less than one week after move-in, freshmen are greeted with an internship fair. The internship fair is an upgrade from previous years’ job fairs where students could find part-time work through connections to coffee shops and families who needed nannies, now offering the opportunity to network for competitive, high-intensity internships at think tanks or businesses.

As expectations change, so does the culture among the student body. Increasingly, students begin conversations by asking about work or dream internships, rather than chatting about ideas from class or discussing their church communities.

In various ways, King’s sends the message that if a student truly wants to succeed, they should intern during their first year, or even first semester, at the school. Unfortunately, freshmen are already inclined to overcommit to extra-curricular activities, athletics, and other events. They are unlikely to have the time and skills to complete a serious internship.

Additionally, many face important life lessons as they move out for the first time and practically adjust to living in “an alpha city.” These lessons deserve students’ time and attention. However, in my experience, once a student is overwhelmed with the demands of their internship, they are more likely to sacrifice their mental health, physical well-being, or performance in school, rather than fail or quit at a “real job” that they are told will define the course of their career.

As an alternative way to explore and advance their career, freshmen should prioritize informational interviews or volunteering. These experiences are less overwhelming, but still offer valuable information to the student. Also, because volunteers can be scarce, a student may even gain more meaningful responsibilities than a basic administrative internship would offer.

All students should exercise caution as they define their priorities throughout college. But freshmen, faced with such a strong narrative from the administration and the accompanying culture among the students, should especially discipline themselves to avoid overcommitting.

After all, a successful college experience is not merely defined by the number of bullet points on your resume. Sometimes the best thing you can do, for yourself and your career, may be to turn away from that tempting internship.

The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College