General Education

What to Do If Your College Internship Is Canceled Due to Coronavirus

What to Do If Your College Internship Is Canceled Due to Coronavirus
Let's be real: Networking probably isn't at the forefront of your mind right now. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly March 31, 2020

If your college internship was canceled due to the growing coronavirus outbreak, know that taking some time to wallow is natural. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your hopes to show a company—and yourself—what you’re capable of.

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In response to the COVID-19, the respiratory illness associated with the new coronavirus, colleges and universities across the U.S. have canceled in-person classes in favor of continuing courses exclusively online for the remainder of the school year.

As the number of cases and fatalities rise and people around the world are forced into isolation, the coming weeks and months bring uncertainty for everyone. College students, in particular, face a myriad of disruptions. Some are sweating the possibility of their upcoming internship program being put on hold. Others are coming to terms with the fact that the internships they hustled to land have been canceled.

Just last week, Yelp abandoned plans for its summer internship program, citing the intern onboarding process as too great a challenge while its entire workforce is remote. On March 10, the University of California Washington program (UCDC) called home 200 students who were interning on Capitol Hill for members of California’s congressional delegation. Four days later, more than 2,200 college students and recent graduates enrolled in Disney’s internship programs at the corporation’s U.S. parks were told their program was over. It was originally scheduled to end in August.

Many companies have not yet announced a decision regarding the future of their internship programs. Others have notified students that they are trying out remote options or are waiting to make a call on whether to cancel or continue. Their decision will likely depend on the government’s efforts to stop COVID-19’s spread over the coming months.

The process of landing an internship can be strenuous, especially for students who apply to programs associated with prestigious organizations with a reputation for strong talent and competitive intern salaries. Many programs are also a paramount opportunity for students to gain knowledge, skills, experience while establishing important connections in the field.

With this in mind, if your internship was canceled due to the growing coronavirus outbreak, know that taking some time to wallow is natural. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your hopes to show a company—and yourself—what you’re capable of. Here’s what we recommend doing next.

Check in with your school

Internships are widely viewed by higher education leaders as an opportunity for students to apply what they're learning in the classroom in the real world. Researchers at Gallup also champion these programs, citing that students who complete a relevant internship while in school are more than twice as likely to land a good job after graduation as are students who haven’t pursued internships.

The conversation around emphasizing—and even requiring—relevant internships as part of the undergraduate experience isn’t new, with many institutions encouraging or even mandating them.

But as these institutions continue to face the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, their once inflexible approach to policies and procedures has transformed into one with a surprising amount of leniency.

Amid the chaos, colleges have scrambled to enact measures that accommodate students who cannot complete internships. Take public policy majors at Duke University, for example, a subset of students that must complete a policy internship to receive their degree. But in light of the coronavirus outbreak, the school waived the stipulation.

Knowing this, it’s in your best interest to contact your advisor or career center staff, who can help you navigate any new policies your school may have taken on student internships.

Will it be a waiting game? Most likely. But it’s also important to remember that the rapid shutdown of so many campuses has not been easy. As circumstances change—and they do, even by the hour—higher education experts and leaders are doing their best to keep you informed and give you the best possible advice and direction that they can.

Explore the option of remote work

It’s typical for most companies to prefer their interns to work in a more traditional in-office environment. Face-to-face meetings and interactions, in particular, mean more opportunities for young workers to find mentors and engage with their coworkers.

At the same time, if your boss or mentor has given you the news about an internship cancelation, you’re allowed to ask about whether continuing your program remotely is an option. Many employers have implemented company-wide work-from-home policies to reduce the impact of the pandemic, and depending on your company and position, it could be possible for you to make the online shift too.

If posing the question over the phone, make sure to schedule an appointment with your boss or mentor so they don’t feel like you’re springing your request on them. It also helps to buffer your request by communicating the value you’ve added to your company, whether that includes how you’ve exceeded expectations or taken on a workload greater than typical for someone at your level.

Take advantage of your professional network

Let's be real: Networking probably isn't at the forefront of your mind right now. You're probably trying to get used to what in-person classes look like through a computer screen or worse, trying to get a refund for a housing or meal plan. But trust us, you'll find that your connections are not only rooting for you but also ready to offer career guidance, industry insight, and even future internship leads.

Keep in mind that social distancing still applies here, which means that your networking strategies will take place, of course, from a distance. Now is a great time to create that LinkedIn profile. Depending on your industry, creating a website or online portfolio is a great jumping-off point too.

Email might feel cold or slightly outdated, but it’s still one of the most powerful ways to connect with new people, whether you’re trying to reach writers at a specific publication, marketers who might be willing to chat with you, founders of specific companies, or other potential mentors you’d like to learn from.

Social media is another great networking tool. Does your school have an alumni group on Facebook? Alumni will often post job openings within their company, and if you're a fit, you can reach out to the poster to learn more about an opening—or simply enquire about their company and the industry they work in.

A few more tips: Always be genuine, don’t be pushy, and be sure to highlight the fact that you’re a college student when getting in touch. After all, most of these contacts were once college students themselves. No, they didn’t earn their degree during a pandemic, but they’ll likely sympathize with the challenges you’re facing and do what they can to help.

Safeguard your mental health

As public spaces are emptied and people opt out of in-person interactions with their communities and friends, many are doing their best to keep themselves busy at home. This is foremost to curb the spread of the virus and act responsibly for the good of everyone. But with so much newfound time at hand, the importance of preserving your mental health can’t be overlooked.

The good news that not all is lost in terms of staying occupied and keeping loneliness and boredom at bay in the time of social distancing. In this case, staying in contact with people virtually, engaging in activities that give you pleasure and a sense of meaning, and doing what you can to help others is key.

For instance, if you’re interested in helping students, think about creating a website or crowdfunding campaign for graduate and undergraduate students facing such pandemic-related hardships as:

  • Travel expenses
  • Food insecurity
  • Lost wages

Since older people are among the most vulnerable to complications from coronavirus, you might consider shopping and delivering groceries from a safe distance on their behalf.

Your efforts to deal with life in quarantine doesn’t have to be entirely altruistic either. Focus on a creative hobby like painting, writing, or graphic design. Unsubscribe from all the newsletters clogging your inbox that you never, ever open. And while you’re at it, check in on your friends. It can feel daunting to have so many options, but it helps to start by thinking about the small improvements you’d like to see in your life and the lives of those around you.

Practice rational optimism

You're most likely reading this at a time when the world’s attention is focused almost purely on threat. Headlines are dominated by places where the pandemic is currently hitting the hardest, like Italy, New York, and Washington state. As the U.S. races to ramp up testing, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is inevitably set to increase.

No one knows when the pandemic will be over or when things will be back to normal, so what can you do to get through such an unprecedented and seemingly uncontrollable time? One way is to think about the situation realistically, but also optimistically.

For instance, while the pandemic has exposed shortcomings in healthcare systems throughout the world, it’s also provided an immediate opportunity to improve them. Done right, health emergency preparedness will include a faster global response and better and quicker distribution of public services.

The virus has also taught us that it’s the forgotten jobs we’re learning to appreciate most—the grocery store clerk, the delivery person, the teacher, the social worker, the nurse. We’ve reordered our thinking to see their industries as a critical part of the world we live in. And we know that these workers deserve the benefits of essential personnel.

As a college student, it can be easy to feel as though a closed campus or canceled internship can bring on a sense of ominousness. But by accepting it, and staying home and healthy, you’re doing your part to help a broader social system. It’s a new world, that’s for certain, and everything turns on our willingness to embrace it.

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