March 16, 2021
Maybe your summer internship search didn't go as planned. Maybe you had such an intense spring semester that you didn't have time to search for summer internships. Maybe you are one of many students with no clue what you want to do and are tired of people asking about the future. Whatever your reasons, if you are finding yourself with no internship this summer, I'm here to tell you that it's not the end of the world. Although internships have been shown to increase chances of gainful employment upon graduation, they don't automatically do that; some simply add one more entry on your resume.
College students embark on summer internships seeking to gain industry insights, valuable skills and meaningful connections, but internships are not the only way to achieve that. Any experience can make you an attractive candidate when it shows that you've practiced valuable skills to accomplish real outcomes. Alternatives to structured internships exist, and pursuing them can help clarify what energizes you and where you see applying your skills. Don't limit yourself to obvious options for your major. What's something you've always wanted to do but never tried either because you thought it impossible (on account of not enough time, money or resources) or because you worried about what others would think? Allow yourself to come up with multiple ideas to test out and you may be on a way to designing your own career path instead of trying to fit into what's available. Here are six alternatives to summer internships I recommend.
Beyond showing you as someone who cares about their community, volunteering is a great way to practice skills in the real world, addressing real-world problems. It gives you the opportunity to test out ideas and explore what's possible without the pressure of choosing the one best fit. If the healthcare industry intrigues you but the significant commitment it requires prevents you from considering it, volunteering could help. You may even get to put those random skills of juggling and making balloon animals to use by volunteering at a children's hospital (a friend of mine did exactly that!). Plenty of institutions and organizations -- public libraries, schools, senior centers, museums, galleries, nonprofits and animal shelters -- need your unique skills. Last summer, I spent Friday mornings at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as a volunteer during storytime for toddlers. Almost all other volunteers were college students interested in working with young children, being engaged with books and libraries, or applying their fantastic drawing and marketing skills to promote the Young Readers Center.
Freelancing has become an option for many not interested in the traditional work environment. In its 2018 Freelancing in America study, Upwork found that the US freelance workforce has increased by 3.7 million over the past five years, and more people, especially young professionals, choose the route. That said, it's not a comfortable choice for everyone, and spending the summer figuring out if it's an option for you could be what you need to move forward. Keep in mind that employers are looking for candidates who have the skills and motivation to help them solve problems they face. Depending on what you are trying to offer, it may benefit you to establish yourself as a trustworthy candidate. Consider using the time you have this summer to start a blog or create your website where you showcase your abilities (writing, drawing, designing, coding, website development). A website and a blog help employers learn about you before they meet you in person. When you reach out and pitch your skills, these platforms can be your professional portfolio helping you present a strong brand, convincing employers to regard you as a worthy candidate.
Many higher ed institutions offer summer courses, and you can save money and gain experience by helping an instructor as a teaching or research assistant. You can also tutor or teach others in your area of expertise. After all, teaching others is the best way to polish a skill. If on-campus employment is not an option, consider positions in the retail or food industries. Although they may not seem appealing, positions in these industries help you develop vital skills you can add to your professional story. Amusement parks, for example, offer the perfect ground for a paid position that stretches your customer skills. Plus, you get to ride all the rides on your days off. Such roles also give you access to people you may not have connected with otherwise. A student I knew a couple of years ago met the founders of a local startup while waitressing and secured a fall internship with that startup, where she applied her marketing skills and made an impact.
With the proliferation of online learning and bootcamps, you can spend the summer gaining additional knowledge and skills to strengthen your value proposition. Popular sites include Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare, Udacity and Lynda. I've personally taken several courses through Coursera and Lynda to advance my career. If you happen to be a college student with access to disposable income -- perhaps as a result of securing a paid summer job -- you may even consider taking a course through MasterClass. Learning and keeping up to date with skill trends is a great habit to develop if you want employers to see you as a candidate who thinks beyond getting an internship to check a box and instead sees career development as a lifelong process. Through these courses, you could connect with a diverse set of individuals who can introduce you to opportunities you either didn't think about or didn't know were options.
A foreign language doesn't have to simply be the easy elective your academic advisor recommends. Learning a second or even a third language has been shown to increase creativity and improve cognitive ability, and it is also a good career move. Depending on geographical location and field of interest, speaking foreign languages could give you an advantage to stand out among other candidates. To learn a new language this summer, you could opt for an established language-learning platform, take a class at the local community college, listen to a language-learning podcast, join a Meetup group, or try one of the many available language-learning apps.
If you feel adventurous and are able to afford it, traveling may just be the thing you need to get out of your comfort zone, explore different experiences and people, and practice the foreign language you decided to pick up. Consider the experience a mini version of a gap year. You may focus on traveling the world as a tourist or you could opt for a more unique experience by joining a community that focuses on impact. Check out the WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms and become a WOOFER. The option will challenge you and help you learn about sustainability while establishing a diverse network of individuals seeking to make an impact.