Dx: Summer Anxiety

How's That Job Search Going? Pressured Yet? You Should Be...

The snow has finally melted and spring appears to be in full swing. But with only four more weeks of classes before reading period, many Harvard students are mindlessly racing around searching for an internship for the summer.

Sure, there are those lucky ones who already found an internship at The Washington Post, their Senator's office or Goldman Sachs. For the rest of us anxiously waiting or desperately looking Harvard students, the pressure mounts when we are asked the most popular question around campus this time of the year: "What are you doing this summer?"

Perhaps the motivation of the questioner is not as cynical as I make it to be, but this question lurks up behind every unsuspecting student who has returned from spring break. There's nothing inherently wrong with being curious about how your classmates plan to spend their summers. I, too, am guilty of asking everyone I see their vernal whereabouts.

For those of us who haven't yet secured our summer plans, the question is a reminder of our already assumed inferiority. Only at a campus like ours with such driven and motivated students would you find people willing to work 40 hours a week--on a volunteer basis--just for the opportunity to say they worked at this place or that one for a summer and to pad their resumes even more. Why are we so much more concerned with doing something that "looks good" for the summer than other college students around the country seem to be?

If I followed the traditional route of my fellow high school grads, I would be returning to Cape Cod to take up my usual job as a restaurant waiter and--perhaps by now--assistant manager. When I talk about my internship search, all my friends at home say to me, "Why find an internship this summer when you can come work and hang out with us at the beach?" Then I begin to question my reasoning.


For 20 years, I've watched summer after summer of college age kids flock in masses to the Cape, and rent a house, party and work as ice cream-truck drivers, lifeguards, waitresses and cooks. When one lives in an area as tourist-driven as the Cape, he or she can't help but end up having a summer job during college in a the tourist economy.

So, why do many Harvard students put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to find productive, meaningful and usually career-oriented internships or jobs for the summer? After all, it is the summer. The University gives us three months off to relax our minds, and not immerse ourselves in high-stress environments or intense-thinking situations. But our general mentality--the same mentality that got us into Harvard in the first place--causes summer anxiety.

Why put myself in some large condensed city like New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles or Boston when I could spend half my summer basking under the hot, Mediterranean sun on the beaches of Greece and the other half of it working at the local eatery back home, as I did last year? I have become trapped in the same thinking, the same mentality as everyone else. Rather than enjoying the rest of the semester and whatever is left of spring, I am searching for some sort of career-focused internship.

Many of our comrades take part in this process of sending cover letters and resumes, a process which began in February and has culminated in this home stretch. When your roommates and friends are also searching for some "meaningful" summer internship--applying to firms and agencies with five unpronounceable names and of which they know little about except for the fact that The Princeton Review has named it one of its Top 100 Internships--it's hard to avoid becoming drawn into this cult.

We'll just have to take it for a fact that for students on such a motivated and driven campus, where a disproportionately high number of students end up entering one high-paying or highly-respected fields, summers aren't meant to relax, but rather are used to further their career goals. I'm still playing the summer-internship search game, and I haven't yet decided whether I will elect to join the ranks of my fellow classmates and work 40 hour/five day weeks in a career-furthering position.

I have come to realize that it really doesn't matter in terms of how much easier it will be for me to land a job after I graduate. I urge you to do the same. Here's some advice from a fellow student in the same predicament: look at all sides and weigh your choices before quickly deciding to leave the books behind at Harvard this summer for a hot and humid work week wearing a suit while crunching numbers.

Nicholas K. Mitrokostas '99 is a Crimson editor living in Quincy House.