“What are you doing this summer?”
It may only be March, but this is a question many of us are already expected to know the answer to.
From unpaid internships with 40-hour work weeks to university research with your favorite professor, summer vacation looks a lot different now than it did when we were kids.
Back in middle school and high school, summer breaks were a time of rest and relaxation. Barring a little summer reading or an AP assignment here and there, you could sleep in as late as you wanted to and not feel bad about it. If you were lucky enough, you’d go on a tropical vacation or a trip to Disney World.
When we were kids, summer was the time we looked forward to all year, and it brought some of the most leisurely times we’re likely to ever have. Now, it’s just one more source of stress.
The summer after the first year of college is usually easy enough. Maybe you spend the break working the same part-time job you had in high school. Maybe you spend it taking a summer class to get ahead on next year’s work.
First-year summer can be seen as a transitional period of sorts. We aren’t able to sit back and suntan until school starts up again like we used to, but there is still some sort of a reprieve from the grind of college work.
Once sophomore year rolls around, however, summers become a lot more stressful.
If you choose not to find an internship, research position or job that aligns with your plans after college (because you should already know what you’re going to do after you graduate, right?), you probably won’t be too behind just yet, but you definitely will feel some guilt for your comparable complacency.
This second summer is seen as our chance (and what feels like an obligation) to get some real-world experience in the field we see ourselves occupying years later. A “successful” sophomore summer should supposedly allow you to gain a better understanding of the jobs available for your major and refine your post-graduation aspirations.
In the summer of our junior years, the pressure for experiential learning hits its peak. Fellowships that take you abroad, highly competitive internship programs and potentially paid positions — junior year summer is where it all happens.
When you’re a rising senior, your summer break is usually not much of a break at all. Maybe you’ll give yourself a week or two after finals to settle down, but then you’re right back to the job chopping block with the same energy as if the school year never ended.
Anyone who is currently ramping up for one of these action-packed summers — multiple members of the Editorial Board included — will tell you, it can make you more than a little nostalgic for the summers of your childhood.
Beyond the stress of getting an internship in the first place, there’s the added financial pressure of being able to afford undertaking an unpaid internship.
Relocating to another city and buying additional housing for a competitive internship is not feasible for a majority of students, even if an elusive cost-of-living stipend is included.
This is the time when we find out a crucial young adult problem: the need for major-specific work experience (often unpaid) clashes with a need to financially sustain oneself.
The purpose of this editorial is not to make the claim that college students deserve a do-nothing summer break every year, but rather to highlight how skewed the work-life balance of a college student really is.
We want to take the time to reflect on how our serotonin-producing childhood experiences abruptly end and are replaced by the professional workforce mindset — something that feels forced upon us swiftly and prematurely.
There is no clearly delineated on-and-off time for college students to finish completing work. We live at our work. It isn’t uncommon for a student to be sending emails and finishing assignments after midnight, well after our professor has signed off for the day and gone to bed.
A real summer break could have given us a chance to reclaim all the time we lost during our round-the-clock working semester. Instead, we spend the second half of the semester preparing for another three months of work and stress.
But stop reading, it’s time to start sending out applications.
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