With my final required Winter Term quickly approaching, I've thought plenty about internship placement. Internships are a selling point for many colleges, but I personally didn't put much thought into them when I was doing my research before application or during decision season. I just figured I would get an internship at some point, no matter what school I attended. Although I might've been right, I realize now how important internships can be, so I'm glad I decided to attend a school where the alumni network and the support of my peers' parents make various opportunities available.
First and foremost, internships are a great way to learn what kind of work you'd like to go into. It might be a bit rough to study in a particular field for years, get a job in that field, and realize that it's actually not something that interests you. Or, you might like the area you pursue but realize ten or twenty years later that you have other interests you absolutely love and never had the chance to explore them. Internships and other forms of experience can prevent both of these situations (and likely others) by participating in work that allows you to seek new or connected experiences. Through Oberlin's resources such as their Sophomore and Junior Practicum and the Handshake page, I have applied to be an intern for companies and organizations such as private law firms in New York City, RCA Records, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Coalition for Economic Survival, the Federal Reserve of New York, and more. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, I never really thought that I would have these kinds of opportunities. I knew I had the drive to accomplish what I set out to do, but I felt that only "really smart," straight-A students would be able to intern at major companies. I figured I would intern somewhere locally, or maybe somewhere in Austin or Los Angeles, because I had family in those cities. Newsflash: I was selling myself short, and if you have a similar line of thinking to the one I used to have, there's a chance you're also selling yourself short. Before I went to Oberlin, I knew nobody from New York City, and now I have prospects in a city that I would not have considered prior.
Like I said earlier, I underestimated the value of a strong alumni network, but now I'm incredibly grateful for it. An alum (and parent of a current student) sponsored my internship at RCA Records. I was able to work with an in-house attorney, gain experience reading contracts, sit in on business and legal meetings, listen to unreleased music, and more. Could I have done some of these things without this internship? Possibly, but it likely would've been much more difficult without the connection of that alum. I recently interviewed (and received an offer!) with a private law firm in New York City: Lansner & Kubitschek. I was able to speak with the partner during my interview, and she also happened to be an Oberlin alum! Both of the internships I've discussed are based in the legal field, but in very different areas, so I'll be able to learn plenty at Lansner & Kubitschek. Since it is a Winter Term internship, I'll still be able to apply to different internships that take place over the summer. I never thought I would have a chance to get work experience in New York; it always seemed inaccessible and just somewhere to visit for a few days if I had the opportunity to vacation there at some point. Funny how life proves you wrong in the best ways if you let it.
A lot of this post has described feelings of pleasant surprise and bewilderment. Even though I felt like a reasonably successful student growing up and somewhat in high school, I attributed much of that to the feeling of being a big fish in a little pond. That's not to say accomplished and intelligent people don't come out of El Paso, but I didn't attend a fancy charter or private school or grow up down the street from major company headquarters like some of my peers that grew up in places like Seattle or the Bay Area. I felt like I was just good enough to get out of El Paso, and I should be grateful that I even did that. But the thing is, I've realized I can be thankful for where my drive has taken me while also realizing I deserve to be in the spaces I'm in. I never identified with the term imposter syndrome because I felt I was good enough for Oberlin to admit me, and I knew that, but for years I constantly self-deselected myself without realizing it. I stopped myself from chasing opportunities and applying to scholarships and jobs, among other things, because I thought it would be a waste of my time and I wouldn't be chosen. In all reality, the person who was telling me "no" and not "choosing" me was myself, and the cost was settling for things that were safe choices.
I've been trying not to self-deselect lately. It's common among women and among other groups of marginalized people. The attitude of being grateful for what you have and not having the nerve to push the envelope is taught generation after generation. Even if it's not explicitly said, in some communities, we're told if you're "good enough," then you'll be offered and selected for different things in life, whether it be a job promotion, increase in a credit line, or even friendships and relationships. If we feel insecure in ourselves, our ability to do things, or that we're not worthy enough to have something, then how does that appear to other people? I've been trying to get out of the mentality that asks others to choose me and instead choose myself.
As a result, I've been putting myself out there, even applying for jobs I'm a bit underqualified for because (1) there will always be the chance that the company sees something in me, and I just need to submit a resume and cover letter for them to notice me, and (2) even if I get rejected, my applications and interview skills get better each time. I had never written a cover letter prior to this year, and it had honestly intimidated me because I had never heard of it growing up and never had it explained to me. Just this past month, I rewrote my resume, wrote at least five cover letters, and had two interviews. I've been able to practice these skills and get more confident in them, even though some have resulted in rejections. Practicing facing rejection is a skill that's not really talked about much. Sometimes (actually a lot of times for many), you receive an email or message that starts with "there were many qualified candidates" and sounds something like "we've decided not to move forward at this time." Sometimes you never get a message back at all. If you're applying for multiple colleges, you know there's a risk of receiving a rejection letter; for some people, this may be their first. It is hard to read or make peace with at first, but this is why it's important to practice it.
Growing up as a high-achieving student that had many academic things go my way, I think it's been important for me to learn how to take my loss and keep going. It's been helpful to frame it as a redirection. I like to think of the twists and turns in my life as the route to where I'm supposed to be. Even if I don't know exactly where that is yet, I think it'll all work itself out in the end. I put myself out there to maximize the opportunities I've been given, but if something isn't for me, I won't waste my time fighting for it. Even when I was in high school applying to colleges and deciding where I would spend the next four years, I worked with the admissions decisions that were given to me, and I think it turned out just fine. I ended up at Oberlin, studying Economics, making friends from around the United States and the world, living away from my parents for the first time, learning how to fly by myself, landing internships at companies like RCA Records, and more. My college experience has definitely gone differently than I thought it would, but I don't think I would be happier anywhere else.
UPDATE: The day I originally published this post, I received an email inviting me to interview with the Coalition for Economic Survival. I interviewed with the Director of Organizing, and he offered me a position as a Winter Term Intern the following day. Though I still get a bit nervous during interviews, I can recognize that I've gotten much better over time. I say filler words such as "like," or "umm," much less than before, and I ask the interviewer questions that I genuinely want to know that answer to, rather than asking questions simply to ask something or stating that I had no questions at all. Getting better at applications, resumes, and interviews happen over time, but I'm glad to see my progress and growth with each position I apply for.
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