Students, career advisers talk the pandemic summer internship application process

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Daily file photo by Alec Carroll

Northwestern Career Advancement Center. Underclassmen reflected on the challenges of applying to internships during the pandemic.

Hannah Cole, Reporter

Vying to build out their work experience, students continue to apply for summer 2021 internships, even amid a pandemic.

Internships present college students an opportunity to build their skills and gain work experience, but the pandemic has created setbacks for some students in the job search. McCormick sophomore Jesse Ji said applying to internships feels especially competitive as a first-time applicant, particularly because there are fewer positions due to the pandemic.

“Because of COVID, a lot of the engineering companies I’m applying to are having a hard time and they don’t have the extra resources they need to take on interns,” Ji said. “Spots are limited this year and I think that’s reflected in the hard time I’m having right now.”

Many programs have moved online to accommodate for social distancing measures. However, the Executive Director of Northwestern Career Advancement Mark Presnell said these adjustments due to the pandemic might also be helpful.

Virtual internships may be more accessible to students who couldn’t rent an apartment for the summer.

“Many more companies are evaluating in-person versus virtual internship opportunities that give students an opportunity to apply to more places,” Presnell said. “Maybe they aren’t from Boulder, Colorado, but there’s an interesting internship that comes up in Boulder, Colorado, and so now they’re able to apply, knowing that it’s going to be virtual.”

Presnell also said he hopes this year’s application process and internship experience will prove easier after last summer’s sudden transition to online work. Companies now know how to accommodate virtual workers, he said, and may have had more time to prepare positions specifically geared toward remote work.

Despite the supposed adjustments, Ji said he feels the processes he’s encountered have remained high-stakes.

“We’re told from the beginning that having an internship is really important to get you set on the right path for your career,” Ji said. “There’s a lot of pressure to get started on that early, and it feels like sometimes being able to land the right career path that you want to be in depends on getting that first internship.”

Medill freshman Allison Rauch hopes to intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or at a National Public Radio station in St. Louis this summer.

Rauch said she feels that the atmosphere at NU pressures people who don’t have internships yet, creating a sense that she and others are behind their employed peers. She decided to apply to various online and in-person positions to gain experience and keep up with her classmates.

Presnell, of Northwestern Career Advancement, emphasized that students should focus on building their resumes and not stress if they do not land a position this year.

Presnell also acknowledged the added challenges of landing a position, given the economic side effects of the public health crisis. Presnell said the post-recession economy has limited positions, making the process difficult for some students.

“You have the ability to do some career exploration,” Presnell said. “Maybe some project work, maybe some research work, maybe volunteer.”

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