During a four-hour open house hosted by the Office of Career Services in mid-November, freshmen steadily streamed into the quaint building at 54 Dunster St. and milled from station to station, toting bags full of flyers and candy. More than half a year in advance, these students were beginning to plan how they will spend their first summer in college.
At Harvard, students said they feel pressured to find summer experiences that make for substantive learning and professional opportunities.
“That’s always the question everyone asks after [summer] break,” Emily T. M. Trang ’16 said as a panelist for a First Generation Student Union summer opportunities event held last week. “They ask, ‘How’s your summer?’ But they really mean, ‘What did you do?’” Trang spent her freshman summer in Boston working for Fidelity Investments.
Laura A. DeFeo ’16, a student adviser at the Office of International Education who traveled to Tanzania to educate locals about HIV prevention during her freshman summer, echoed Trang’s sentiment.
“For Harvard kids, we panic a lot,” DeFeo said. “‘I need to be in a lab! I need to be having an internship or something that’s going to look good on a resume!’”
As the newest members of the College who have not yet declared a concentration, freshmen face a limited pool of employers willing to consider them for paid summer internships, said Robin Mount, OCS director of career, research, and international opportunities.
“There aren’t a lot of paid positions for freshmen unless you can code or design apps,” Mount said. “Most of the skills that freshmen have aren’t ones employers are ready to pay for yet.”
As a result, for some freshmen, the upcoming three-month vacation provides an opportunity to cultivate new interests, serve their communities, conduct research, and travel rather than land a prestigious internship. Still, others view the break from academic responsibilities as a chance to build resumes and network. Yet, earning income and making summer affordable can be a limiting factor in choosing summer experiences.
OCS created Summer Planning for Freshmen, or SPF, events at the request of the Freshman Dean’s Office after reports that students missed application deadlines that largely fall early in the spring semester, Mount said.
“If you don’t think about [summer] until you get back in spring semester and deadlines are a week away, you don’t have time to ask for letters of recommendation and to put the pieces together that makes you competitive enough to get those opportunities,” Mount said.
Freshmen said this application timeline departs from their experiences planning their summers in high school and provides an additional challenge for students still transitioning to College life.
“On the sheet, it said that there are already deadlines that I missed or advisory things that I missed in September and October,” said Tynan Jackson ’19, an attendee at SPF-19, which was held in mid-November. “We’re thinking about if we’re going to survive college, not what we’re going to do during the summer.”
According to Mount, the academic calendar can complicate timely summer planning.
“You guys leave late December, and you don’t come back until almost the end of January,” she said. “So the deadline is quick once you get back on campus. You have to get started a little earlier.”
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