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How to Make Summer Meaningful in the Age of COVID — Advice from a Former Stanford Interviewer

Shari Bender


March 2020 — my son, a college freshman, had his eyes on a swanky summer internship. He had just submitted his application and was excited about the possibility.

A week later, the world came to a halt and he was scrambling to pack up his belongings to head home.

We held out hope, albeit very briefly, that the internship could happen in some capacity but no such luck. Like so many of his peers, Joe’s internship dreams were shattered and he found himself looking ahead to a summer filled with, well, nothing.

I reassured him this was okay. Future employers would understand that “Summer 2020” was the lost summer, and a quiet one wouldn’t hurt his chances of success. How about taking a virtual summer class?

He looked at me from across the table, his eyes seething at the thought of an entire summer break spent at home under parental lockdown and tied to a computer screen.

My son decided to take matters into his own hands. A friend of his was making good money with DoorDash. Joe felt that getting out of the house, driving around and a steady cash stream was a good fit for him, too. I was reluctant, since we didn’t know as much about the virus at the time, but he insisted — and oh-so-gently reminded me that he was over 18.

This was happening. He applied and started Dashing.

DoorDash has been a godsend, not just for the summer, but continuing into the academic year. Joe is able to deliver food on his own schedule, both at home and at school, earn some extra money and really, in pandemic times, do some good. I know I have appreciated my occasional DoorDash indulgences when going inside a restaurant has been out of the question.

But this is Summer 2021.

It's doubtful my son will get another “free pass” on his summer agenda. That means finding a meaningful internship/job or summer experience.

Advice columnist Dear Adina, a wise woman with more years and experience than I, says that parents should not interfere with the college internship process.

High-strung, anxiety-ridden Mama Shari, a wise woman who does not want another stress-filled summer of teenage pandemic angst, says that I must do something!

So how can I balance the rational side that knows my son needs to do this on his own with the side that wants to help him?

Here’s my plan.

Nag Nag Nag

Encourage Encourage Encourage

I will text and ask gently about the internship process. And since I know kids thrive on genuine parental praise, I'll make sure to add that into the mix. "I know it’s a tough time, but you’re a valuable asset — how can I help? Would you like me to reach out to my contacts to see if someone has a good fit?"

Sometimes we parents obsess about what others may think of our kid’s jobs and accomplishments. An impressive internship or summer experience doesn’t have to mean exclusivity. In other words, don’t underestimate the power of a so-called regular job.

As a former Stanford interviewer, I spoke to many many amazing candidates. Often what distinguished one from another was a paying, seemingly ordinary job. One teen worked at McDonald’s. Another worked over the summer for a pool company doing weekly maintenance. Some babysat, others tutored.

These jobs may not have been glamorous, but they were highly valuable. I saw confidence and pride amongst those applicants who held a job. I saw this translate for my own child when he started working as a server during high school.

Encourage your kids to work. Real world dealing with customers and personal interactions are invaluable as they progress through life. Almost any job will build character and may lead to an unexpected and fulfilling path.

At the time of this article, Joe is still awaiting his final landing place for the summer. But for now, we have a peaceful dialogue about it, and I know whatever is in the cards for him this summer, he (and we) will make the most of it.

Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children, Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest along with her husband of nearly 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including CollegiateParent and Grown & Flown.

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