Feeling the Heat

The campus culture surrounding summer planning can be toxic.

As Harvard students, we know all too well that the first question we will be asked by our peers when we return to campus in January is about the summer. Classes start again, and we start furiously filling out applications and seeking out interviews with the abstract hope of landing “something” by the end of the school year, leaving us at the risk of the negative feelings of stress, judgment, rejection, and fear, all the while trying to excel academically. The necessity of finding plans can all too often begin to feel like an existential conflict.

Students have a variety of available options, most often choosing study abroad programs, research, and internships in public service, finance, consulting, and technology. With this broad array of opportunities comes the general expectation that students “make the most” of their summers by taking advantage of one of these options. Going home to work a “regular” summer job and spend time with family can be looked down upon. After all, it's not exciting enough, and does not bring the same social capital (or real capital) as a shiny internship in a big city.

This phenomenon is only a byproduct of students' tendency to compete to secure the most prestigious summer experiences. Though this sort of competitiveness pervades many aspects of life at Harvard, in the context of summer plans it only serves to induce anxiety in much of the student body and overlook the particularities of many students' circumstances.

The challenges of utilizing break times for professional development experiences can be compounded by the geographical distributions of such opportunities, especially for students who live in rural or less populous areas. For those who live in the Northeast, finding a well-paid or exciting internship back home or in the Boston-Cambridge area is a much more realistic possibility. The same can be said for students from booming cities full of young professionals and opportunities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Students from these areas have the chance to simultaneously go back home to see their families while building up their resumes.

Moreover, students who live in close proximity to Harvard are also privileged with the ability to spend shorter breaks as well as weekends at home. For peers who hail from towns much farther away, expensive plane fares can prohibit travel home. Students who live in advantageous areas may not think twice about not seeing their families all summer or missing home when they have had multiple instances to visit throughout the semester. On the other hand, students from other areas are often faced with a more stressful choice: to take advantage of one of the few times they can see their families during the year or to take advantage of the many opportunities that Harvard provides.

In addition to geography, socioeconomic status plays into this situation. For some, their summer plans can be easily funded personally while other students have to consider the summer and term-time contributions that the University requires. This leads many people to prioritize funded or paid opportunities over those that may seem purely recreational or not academically-oriented.

We nevertheless appreciate the University and especially the Office of Career Services for aiding the summer planning process through the provision of funding, the facilitation of on-campus interviews, and the giving of advice to make opportunities more accessible to students. We are thankful for their efforts to help students pursue a variety of different summer experiences when possible.

The importance of professional development and the various component that inform students’ decisions aside, this culture, as many of us have experienced, can be toxic. For students at a liberal arts institution that lauds learning for its own sake, we pressure ourselves too much to fall in line with what an ideal summer should like. In reality, not all do or should want to go abroad or have an internship, and that too should be respected.We should remind ourselves that we have three summers, so spending one at home will not ruin our post-college trajectory. Though it is important to utilize our summers well, Harvard students should do so in whatever way fits our personal goals and future plans. What we do during that three-month break will not ultimately make-or-break where we end up in life. Success manifests itself in different ways, and a summer should reflect only each person's definition of what is fulfilling.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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