College students across the country are scrambling to rethink their summer plans as employers cancel internships, citing COVID-19 safety concerns and cost-cutting measures. College juniors and seniors rely on summer internships as both a source of income and a vehicle to help them eventually find full-time work. Without those summer opportunities, many students are unclear on their next steps—and concerned about the implications for their professional trajectory.
“The moment you go into college, it feels like the junior-year internship is the culmination of all your hard work, all the experiences you’ve had,” Vicky Zhang, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Washington Post in recounting how her New York internship was canceled.
Lost wages, networking opportunities
The cancellation of summer internships is especially devastating for low-income students, many of whom rely on the experiences to build their resumes, earn funds for college, and position themselves for the full-time employment needed to repay loans after graduation. “Summer is the time I get to work as much as possible because I’m not in class,” Keri Johnson, a journalism student at Ohio University, told The New York Times. “It’s kind of scary thinking about the fact that I won’t be able to work in the summer as much as I normally would.”
Some employers are finding creative ways to modify the internship experience for current circumstances. Some are deferring internship start dates, while others are providing remote experiences.
However, students fear that working virtually will prevent the networking opportunities that can only be had face-to-face and are especially crucial for students with limited professional networks. “You pick up a lot of subtle clues about how to behave in that profession, how to communicate like an engineer, how to work in teams like a nurse,” Matthew Hora, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin, told The New York Times. “Students are going to be missing that.”