The idea for this article was born when we were sitting in Valentine Dining Hall at breakfast one day with a group of our friends exchanging stories about our experiences with career support at Amherst. We heard stories about people who didn’t visit the Loeb Center until the second semester of their senior year, only to realize that they hadn’t fulfilled the requirements for their dream graduate school program. We also compared notes on some of our most (and least) productive Loeb Center advising meetings. We all agreed that the Loeb Center should assume that first-years, especially FLI students, have much less prior knowledge about navigating career-related spaces. So, we felt inspired to share some of our advice for students and Loeb Center advisors on how to set students up for future success from day one. We want to acknowledge that this advice is not exhaustive — as we are just two of many seniors! — but we hope it will inspire some important conversations.
Career opportunities come from many places, one of them being the Loeb Center. We hope to encourage students of all class years to try it out. There are actually a lot of resources for first-year students, especially for finding a summer internship in a career field that you are potentially interested in.
To help you feel more prepared to apply for internships, the Loeb Center offers weekly workshops on how to write a resume and cover letter. Anna recalls going to a resume-writing workshop and learning that she could actually add high school experiences to her resume. Then, she remembers showing a Peer Career Advisor (PCA) her resume and watching in awe as the advisor fixed each margin and paragraph indent with seemingly magical ease, turning a conglomerate of random leadership experiences into a decent-looking resume fit for the job market. It really is quite impressive what the PCAs can do!
If you want to pursue an unpaid or underpaid internship, the Loeb Center offers some programs for funding. Anna was especially excited about the Charles Hamilton Houston Program, which gave her college funding to complete a twelve-week unpaid internship with Greenpeace, an environmental NGO. This was the result of scheduling a meeting during J-Term with the Loeb Center, in which they advised her to apply to the Houston Program that month and apply to the Greenpeace internship in February. They can ease fears about timelines and finances, and all you have to do is pick internships that sound fun for you! The Loeb Center also has a lot of resources for finding internships geared toward first-year students.
For those who have honed their career interests, the Loeb Center also offers programs for specific industries. For those pursuing education, Ryan highly recommends the Loeb Center’s Education Professions Fellowship (which she participated in!), which you can apply for as early as your freshman year. As part of this fellowship, you will join a cohort of students from all class years that meet a few times a month to participate in workshops, hear from super cool speakers, and learn about potential internships. There are many different “career communities” at Amherst, including education professions, arts and communication, business and finance, government and non-profits, health professions, and science and technology. Some career communities also offer annual, exploratory treks where you can travel to cities with like-minded peers and see alums in action in your desired career area. Ryan visited Toronto this past spring break as part of the education trek, and Anna visited Boston over J-term as part of the sustainability trek — and we both had an awesome time! These different career communities also bring in alumni every year who give talks and meet with students one-on-one in office hours. These office hours are an especially great opportunity to speak with an alum about their career after college in a low-stakes setting.
Beyond the Loeb Center
Beyond the Loeb Center, we recommend looking out for opportunities from other outlets around campus. Anna, for instance, found another internship through a job board on her environmental studies department webpage. There are also research opportunities in both the humanities and sciences, and community-engaged research opportunities. Ryan spent two summers working for professors at Amherst doing humanities research. The research tutorial seminars (which you can take in the spring of your sophomore or junior year) are an especially great way to access summer research opportunities in the humanities.
We hope that students are also aware of the opportunities that Amherst provides to send you abroad over the summer. Anna regrets not pulling from this pool of money. What would be better than participating in a summer-long abroad program and receiving funding for it? Also, if you are worried about whether you will be able to earn enough money over the summer doing a summer program or internship, Anna recommends talking to someone in the financial aid office. The office is often able to support summer experiences, especially those that are unpaid.
Room for Improvement
After reading this far, you might feel a bit overwhelmed, especially if some (or all) of this information is new to you. It is too common for students to go all four years without taking advantage of the Loeb Center's resources, just because they don't know about them! We believe that the Loeb Center should have initiatives that prepare underclassmen for setting up their career opportunities so that students are more aware of what the Loeb Center has to offer earlier on in their college careers.
First, we suggest that Loeb Center PCAs make visits to First-Year Seminars after fall break to advertise the Loeb Center’s resources to students. The First-Year Seminar is a vastly underutilized resource, especially when it comes to disseminating advice about planning for the future. For the first few weeks of the fall semester, first years are bombarded with information (and are often just trying to stay afloat), so any mention of summer internships (much less distant-seeming careers!) often does not sink in. That’s why we suggest these visits occur a bit later in the fall semester. First-years may also be more likely to listen to upperclassmen who were in their position not too long ago. The PCAs can also speak more personally as to how visiting the Loeb Center as first years benefited them. These visits don’t even have to be long to be impactful—we imagine they could last as little as 10 minutes.
The Loeb Center should also provide students with “how-to guides,” not only about how to get jobs, but how to use the center itself! As a first-year, the idea of a career center sounds new and intimidating. The Loeb Center could provide guides, for example, explaining how to go to a Loeb Center meeting. What do I talk about as a first-year? As a sophomore? As a junior? What questions should I ask? What questions will they ask me, and how do I answer productively? The Loeb Center affirms that, yes, it is okay to not know what you want to do after college, but they could provide ways for students to explain their current passions and interests so that the conversation does not end abruptly if they do say “I don’t know.”
We want to stress that the job/internship search process can be quite stressful at times. If you feel like you are behind, know that positions and opportunities always seem to show up later. And remember, everyone is on their different timelines. Some people start applying for a summer job the year before, and some just weeks before the job starts.
With each new application or cover letter you write, the process gets faster and easier. Hopefully, once you have tried out a few positions, by senior year you will be less overwhelmed (and more comfortable with rejection) as you start applying for postgraduate activities.
Of course, these are just a few of the many pieces of advice that we have to offer. We have just only come out of your shoes and are still learning so much. As we leave Amherst, we hope that other students can learn about all of Amherst’s resources early on so that they can feel more prepared as they prepare for a career once they leave.