Like every new quarter, spring quarter comes with its own unique set of challenges. For some, it might be the dread of a prolonged winter when they had been promised spring weather, for others, a fourth class that is proving to be much more challenging than it sounded. But unlike fall and winter terms, spring quarter also means talk about the summer, and with it, a pressure to have a really productive, fulfilling, and memorable one.
At a competitive school like UChicago, students are constantly contemplating their futures, and aside from the academic stress this entails, we are worrying about making the time between our college years—the long summer months (especially lengthy given the quarter system)—count. Spring quarter marks the time of year where we frantically finish applying and interviewing for competitive internships, planning trips abroad to learn languages, or signing up to take extra classes. This culture of making the most of June, July, August, and September in order to enhance résumés and the pressure to have life-changing experiences can lead to unhealthy amounts of stress, adding to what students already endure with the rigor of UChicago alone.
As a first-year, I, along with many of my fellow underclassmen, have expressed our frustration with the process of applying for and actually receiving internship offers, as many companies and organizations prefer hiring someone older and more experienced. In fact, this type of rejection is something that I experienced for the first time not too long ago: I was a runner-up for an internship at a publishing company in New York that ended up hiring two fourth-years instead.
I was angry for multiple reasons; firstly, to put it simply, rejection sucks, especially when you come so close to getting a position. Secondly, knowing that my age and inevitable lack of experience compared to two people older than me was my downfall made me question why I was encouraged to apply at all.
But lastly, and perhaps even more troubling than the ageist system I fell victim to, I was faced with the threat of not having an impressive summer internship like so many of my peers. This fear loomed in the background and made me feel automatically disadvantaged in my professional future.
As I have been frantically perusing Handshake and e-mailing my career advisor about last minute application deadlines, I have come to realize (with the help of supportive friends and wise upperclassmen like my RA), that my anxiety about having an incredibly busy, résumé-enriching summer is likely the product of the Imposter Syndrome that so many UChicago students face. This is especially true when faced with rejection. It’s easy to spiral into an unhealthy line of thinking, perpetuating the idea that you are simply not good enough to compete with other intelligent, talented young people. But facing rejection and failure is always, if nothing else, a time for reflection and learning.
The competitive internship culture in which many of us are so deeply immersed leaves little room to consider the desire, and even need, for students like ourselves to spend the summer focusing on our happiness and well-being, parts of ourselves often compromised during the school year. This same competitiveness surely drives students to apply for things that they may not even be ready for or interested in, simply so that they do not have to tell their peers that they don’t have an esteemed Goldman Sachs offer lined up for the summer.
If the rat race to secure an impressive internship tells us one thing, it is that the constant culture of stress and Imposter Syndrome is unfortunately not something that starts and ends with each school year. As I spend more time contemplating my rejection and attempting to figure out what else I can spend four months doing, I’ll try to keep the following perspectives in mind and hope that my fellow peers may, too: I’m a rising second-year with plenty of time to work on my résumé, my mental health and happiness are more important than any job or internship offer, and my summer can be worthwhile, fun, and full of learning with many different kinds of experiences, not just with ones that might pad my résumé in the usual ways.
Zahra Nassar is a first-year in the College.