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.”
Gwen Thomas ’17 described herself as “totally lost” while trying to plan her freshman summer, beginning her search in March of that year. She ended up teaching through the CIVICS program at the Institute Of Politics.
“Everyone had it figured out,” she said. “It didn’t occur to me that people did stuff over the summer as freshmen.”
Similarly, DeFeo said she felt overwhelmed by the scramble to make summer plans after winter break.
“Everyone comes back from winter break and is kind of like, ‘Oh! We need to figure out our summers.’ And it’s Harvard, so everyone is really intense about it,” she said. “And I’m just this kid from New Jersey, like, ‘Oh god, what am I doing?’”
A TIME TO EXPLORE
With a vast array of options, from public service to research and study abroad, as well as a perception that future internships leading to full-time employment focus less on freshman summer experiences, freshmen said they aimed to invest in personal interests.
“Most employers say that what students did in their freshman summer typically isn’t the factor that got them the interview and the job,” said Deborah Carroll, OCS associate director of employer relations and operations.
With this in mind, many freshmen and upperclassmen described the summer after freshman year as a time of relaxation and exploration. Some freshmen pointed to academic research as an interest to be developed over the vacation.
According to Jeffrey Berg, an assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, the 2015 cohort of PRISE fellows, students who conducted research as part of the Harvard College Program for Research in Science and Engineering, included 39 freshmen or 32 percent of the total group.
For other residential programs like the Behavioral Laboratory in the Social Sciences, the Program for Research in Markets and Organizations, the Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program, and the Summer Undergraduate Research in Global Health, freshmen represented 20 percent overall, ranging from 6 percent to 30 percent across the programs, he wrote in an email.
However, many freshmen say that they are still unsure of what opportunity they hope to pursue this summer.
“I really wanted to take the summer off and re-evaluate my year, see what exactly I was interested in and not jump into something thinking that I would like it,” Yong Dich ’19 said.
For her part, Anna M. Raheem ’19 said utilizing the time to explore can then lead to discovery of what students want to do in the future.
“Having fun and exploring can actually be very important in figuring out what you want to do,” Raheem said. “If you never try anything out, how will you know if you like it or not?”
Ashri Anurudran ’19 observed that many of her peers are looking for opportunities outside of the office.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of freshmen, and most of them say that they want to do something unique and not the typical internship in New York where you’re stuck in a cubicle all day,” she said.
Denise J. Kwong ’19, who said she hopes to spend her summer completing an internship abroad, said she wanted a non-classroom experience due to the her otherwise academic focus during the school year.
“I kind of want something that’s more hands-on, just kind of getting [my hands] dirty in the field,” she said. “I would prefer a more immersive experience rather than a classroom experience.”
Christi S. Balaki ’18, who conducted lab research at in Florida during her freshman summer, said she had the understanding that freshman summer “doesn’t matter” for future prospects.
“Junior year you’re like, ‘I need an internship!’ But your freshman summer is more like, ‘Let me relax, let me explore before I have to go out and get an internship junior year,’” Balaki said.
Freshman proctor Bryce J. Gilfillian ’12 said that he tells freshman students to look for summer experiences that provide a chance to destress and venture into different fields.
“I encourage students to think smaller. The odds that you get an internship with Goldman after freshman year are slim, but that isn’t what I think you should be doing with your freshmen summer to begin with,” Gilfillian said. “There’s nothing wrong with just going home.”
While a plethora of freshmen plan to spend the summer cultivating personal interests, others still seek opportunities for career development.
“Some people want internships because they are trained to want to do it, because it’s a prestigious thing,” said Avika Dua ’17.
For others, getting a summer internship simply serves as a source of motivation for professional goals.
“To be honest, I definitely see it as a resume builder,” Jackson said.
LOOKING FOR PAY
Although Harvard hosts a database of funding and opportunities for undergraduates, which features sources of funding from OCS, the IOP, the Global Health Institute, and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, among numerous offices, many freshmen said receiving pay or acquiring funding remained a primary concern for their summer plans.
“Harvard has a lot of opportunities and a lot of resources, but at least for me, as a first-gen student, I didn’t know how to access them,” said Vanessa Decembre ’16, speaking of her freshman year experience at the summer opportunities event hosted by the First Generation Student Union.
At the event, panelist Keyanna Y. Wigglesworth ’16, who studied in Peru during her freshman summer, said she felt torn between finding a paid opportunity and returning home.
“The tension for me was choosing to do an internship that made money but also feeling pressure from my family to return home and spend time with them,” she said.
Not all students can receive funding. OCS can support only 50 percent of the students who apply for OCS funding for Harvard Summer Study Abroad programs, and money is allocated through a lottery system. Among those, about one-third of students funded are freshman, with fewer juniors funded and no seniors funded, Mount said.
Harvard also provides funding for independent, student-initiated summer research through the Harvard College Research Program, which requires applicants to arrange their own research projects with Harvard-affiliated faculty. Freshmen represented about eight percent of those who received funding in the summer of 2015, Berg said.
Out of the about 100 students who received Director’s Internships through the IOP, 27 were freshmen, 39 sophomores, and the rest juniors or off-cycle seniors. Director’s Interns receive $4,000 as a stipend for their summer internships.
This means that although freshmen typically rely on Harvard funding as the only source of income during unpaid summer opportunities, they constitute only a fraction of those who receive the funding. For some, the question of affordability remains.
“I had the responsibility of giving back to my family in some aspect and that made me want to find some job that did have some amount of money,” Ted J. White ’17 said of his freshman summer, when he worked at the Crimson Summer Academy, a program he had been a part of during high school.
White, a coordinator for the Harvard College First Generation Student Union, said that summer housing expenses continue to be an issue.
“One of the barriers, at least for me, is finding internships where I can get enough for housing,” White said. “Internships concentrate in places like D.C., New York, even Boston itself. It’s hard to find housing that’s affordable on a stipend for eight to 12 weeks.”
—Staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.—Staff writer Siqi Liu can be reached at email@example.com.
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