Students shouldn’t be pressured to keep up the grind in the summer

Olivia Berkeley

Recently, a particularly annoying question has been swirling around campus. “What are your summer plans?” my friends ask. Unfortunately, my answer is often met with judgment. When asked how I plan to spend my summer — nannying full-time and taking one measly online course — I am confronted with questioning looks. By some standards, it would appear that I am wasting a three-month period designed to further my education and get job experience. But my summer plans should not indicate that I am any less motivated or driven than the next person. I just don’t succumb to the peer pressure surrounding the need for excellence. 

Monica Jackson, a Moody College of Communication career adviser, said she tells students who express concerns about finding jobs after they graduate that “it really just depends on how prepared the student is with their transition, the number of internships they have had, the research they have done and how aggressive they are with their job search.”

When students ask Jackson how they should spend their summers, she says it “depends on their situation and if they have done an internship in the previous fall and spring academic year. If so, taking the summer off is acceptable.” 

“For most [students] depending on [their] major, taking advantage of an internship during the summer … would be beneficial,” Jackson said. 

College is a competitive atmosphere, and I completely understand why students forsake fun in order to make their resumes more impressive. Many college students believe summers should be used to take classes, work, get an internship and forgo relaxation to make themselves more employable individuals. In a competitive environment such as UT’s, having a high GPA and belonging to student organizations is not enough to be successful after graduation. The goal of getting a degree from UT is to have a career, and having internships is viewed as the way to attain one. 

“This summer I’d like to experience the design side of [civil engineering], to understand the logic concerning the planning of a building,” civil engineering sophomore Chi-Chih Chen said. “I’m not sure if I’ll get paid this time for my work, but I’m eager to learn nonetheless. [My motivation to intern is] more interest-driven.” 

It’s a student’s prerogative to choose how to spend his or her summer, but to treat it exclusively as a time to increase employability is neglecting to acknowledge an entire subset of students who use their summer time differently. I encourage everyone to re-evaluate the motivations behind how they spend their summers. If you want to be a camp counselor but feel the pressure of your peers influencing you to seek out a prestigious internship instead, explore that dynamic. I may be old-fashioned  — and doomed to be unemployed for life — but I believe people should do what they love. If that happens to be a full-time job or resume-boosting internship, then so be it.

Of course, it is hard to ignore the benefits of spending summer working and interning rather than tanning and sleeping. Using the three months between the end and start of school is invaluable in terms of career exploration, especially with half of college graduates working jobs that aren’t worth the prices of their degrees. About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in job positions that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests require less than a four-year college education. According to The Huffington Post and a May 2013 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the overall unemployment rate for recent graduates is 7.9 percent. So, as college students lose faith in an unreliable job market, internships and summers spent frantically improving resumes are understandably becoming the baseline expectation. 

“I think that working over the summer is a great way to advance both [your] education and your own future marketability — you can learn so much from a summer internship and sharpen your resume at the same time,” said Travis Lenz, an electrical engineering sophomore who will intern at Cadac Group in Houston this summer. “It’s not always a bad idea to relax during the summer and prepare for the next year — whether it be work or education. I just decided to take this summer as an opportunity to get a head start in the [engineering] world.”

We will all fall victim to the rat race at some point in time, but I urge everyone to make sure it is for the right reasons. College is one of the few times in which we get to pick and choose what we want to do and shape our classes and jobs to what we are interested in, and summertime should be no exception. Instead of judging one another based on the contents of our summer agendas, we should be encouraging each other to seek out opportunities that excite, entertain and challenge us. There are numerous summers during the college experience, and spending one away from a work environment isn’t all that bad. Catastrophizing the implications of taking a summer off is not a productive use of time and is certainly something I am tired of hearing about. The decision to craft your summer as you see fit is entirely yours. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. 

Berkeley is a Plan II Honors and advertising freshman from Austin. Follow Berkeley on Twitter @oliviaberkeley.