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Summer Opportunities for Underclassmen Students

As a freshman or sophomore in college, it can be difficult to know what you should be doing over the summer. Since you have less experience, and may not have a lot of the skills that employers prioritize in interns, it can be difficult to compete with upperclassmen. However, you also don’t want to feel like you have been wasting your summers, and want to get a leg up for the future. There are many opportunities that you can pursue during the summer that will be beneficial for your future.

Study Abroad or Take Summer Classes or Have an Abroad Experience

Many colleges have opportunities for students to take classes over the summer, either on campus or through abroad programs. Some colleges even let you transfer credit from online courses or other colleges, allowing you even more flexibility to take classes while you work during the day or live at home. Since you are taking extra classes during the summer, this can enable you to gain senior standing or even to potentially graduate early, while also allowing you to more quickly be able to move on to higher level classes. 

If you want to have a study abroad experience but don’t want it to be during the traditional school year, many colleges also have programs that allow you to take classes abroad during the summer. “I believe creativity and diversity is especially important in engineering,” says Ashley An, a senior at Columbia University who studied abroad in Hong Kong the summer after her freshman year. “I wanted to be able to apply new perspectives to my work, and study abroad was the first time I had left the country. I also didn’t want to miss out during the school year, so that’s why I decided to go abroad during the summer.” 

If going abroad is an experience that is important to you, you can also look for programs that let you conduct research or intern abroad. It is usually easier to find these opportunities through an established program rather than looking on your own, since getting a visa can sometimes be an issue.

Do Research

Many colleges like CMU or UC Berkeley have structured programs for students to pursue research, hence, your own college might have specific opportunities for its students. You can also apply to specific research grants or scholarships to fund the cost of pursuing research over the summer. Even reaching out to a professor whose work you’re interested in could yield promising results. If you’re already doing research during the school year, continuing it over the summer gives you uninterrupted time to pursue it without having to worry about other responsibilities. You are able to go more in-depth into your research project, and you might even have the opportunity to come up with your own project.

This can also be a great way to gauge if research is something you want to pursue long-term, and deciding early on if you want to enter industry or academia can be beneficial in structuring your later summers.

Find Opportunities Close to Home

It can be tempting to only pursue opportunities at big companies with big name recognition, but there may be many great options at companies close to your college or hometown. Seeking out these opportunities can often be less competitive, but also allow you to live at home or on campus, decreasing the stress you might feel in having to move and adapt to a new environment. Local companies are usually more willing to take on an intern with less experience, since it can be more difficult for them to find a suitable match. Having these experiences can be a great way to find a hidden gem where you end up wanting to work for every summer, or just get some early work experience.

Another option is to freelance in your area through making websites or web applications for local businesses. This allows you to have full control over the types of projects you are doing, and can be a good way to get full-stack experience. However, you will probably need to be able to show these businesses examples of similar projects you have done. 

Look for Underclassmen-Specific Programs

Many larger companies have specific programs targeted toward underclassmen because they know that these students have less experience, and they want to help facilitate important skills earlier on. Examples of these programs include Facebook University (FBU), Google’s Student Training in Engineering (STEP) Program, and Explore Microsoft. As companies continue to grow their intern programs, underclassmen-specific programs become more and more prevalent, so always keep an eye out for similar opportunities. Since these programs are more structured and usually have components outside of purely technical interviews, they tend to recruit earlier in the semester than typical internships (starting as early as September). 

All these opportunities are not to say you shouldn’t pursue more traditional internships as an underclassmen. However, it’s important to be cognizant that it can be hard to stand out when you’ve only been in college a short time, and hone your search to make sure that you’re considering all your potential opportunities.

-Victoria Yang, 2019 RTC Fellow