Your Freshman Summer, Demystified

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We are taking a quick break from the usual alumni interviews to feature another set of superstars: you, the readers! Some of the best insights come from current students, whose countless collective experiences and lessons learned can be democratized for the betterment of future generations.

Why is this article needed?

Due to several frantic requests made by freshmen readers about finding that perfect summer internship, we noticed this trend was prevalent across the entire class. As on-campus recruiting (OCR) was pushed to the fall for the first time, from the moment freshmen set foot on campus, the overwhelming presence of professionally-clad upperclassmen with leather portfolios would have made any regular person panic. To alleviate their worries, we made a public post asking upperclassmen to talk about their freshman summer plans. After collecting nearly 70 responses across 25+ majors, we conducted data analysis to accomplish three things:

  1. Paint a more transparent picture for future freshmen regarding their first summers
  2. Provide compelling evidence that freshmen summer plans have little correlation towards future plans
  3. Connect students to upperclassmen with all types of summers

Survey Breakdown

For each participant, we asked the following:

Most common majors surveyed are in decreasing order: Finance, Management, Operations & Information Decisions, Marketing, Business Analytics, Computer & Information Science, Statistics, and Biology.

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All of the responses were grouped into five general types of summer plans:

  • General Business Internship - 41%
  • Tech or Startup Internship - 22%
  • Research or Classes - 15%
  • Travel/Study Abroad - 15%
  • Non-Profit or High School Job - 7%

The methods participants used to attain these plans include:

  • Family or friend connection - 34%
  • Applied directly - 34%
  • Cold emailed - 19%
  • High school job continuation or own startup - 13%

Scoring Metrics: Usefulness and Percent Redos

Two main metrics we used to determine overall perceptions of a successful summer were:

  1. Usefulness scores from 1-10, 10 being most useful
  2. Percentage of people who would redo or change their summer

Usefulness scores were described to participants as a “combination of personal and professional development”. The average scores out of 10 for each type of summer are:

  • Travel/Study Abroad - 7.5
  • Tech or Startups - 7.1
  • Non-Profit or High School Job - 6.8
  • General Business - 5.8
  • Research or Classes - 5.6
Key Takeaways:
  1. Students who traveled or studied abroad gave the highest perceived usefulness scores of 7.5.
  2. Students who conducted research or took summer classes on campus gave the lowest perceived usefulness score of 5.6.

Participants were also asked if they would redo or change their summer, given the chance. The split between students who would redo their summer vs. students who would keep it unchanged was 38% to 63%. Of the students who would choose to redo their summer, the most common reasons are that students wanted to:

  • Take advantage of their last chance to travel, be with family, or have fun - 54%
  • Explore a field more related to their interests - 21%
  • Gain more useful skills - 21%
  • Be more prepared before starting an internship - 4%

In addition, the percentage of people who would redo or change their summer varied amongst the different summer types:

  • Tech or Startups - 44%
  • General Business - 41%
  • Research or Classes - 40%
  • Travel/Study Abroad - 27%
  • Non-Profit or High School Job - 20%
Key Takeaways:
  1. Those who had a formal internship, regardless of whether it was in general business, tech, or startups, had the highest concentration of people who would redo their summer compared to those without internships.
  2. The top reason people would have changed or re-done their summer was undoubtedly because it was perceived to be the last full summer to do something they enjoyed. Common alternative activities were staying longer with family, traveling more, or doing more fun things.

Comparing Freshman Summer with Later Career Plans

A common fear perpetuated by the pre-professional environment is that the freshmen summer has significant correlation with a student’s future academic and career plans.

However, the data shows that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Less than a third of the students surveyed (30%) are currently pursuing a career in the same field as that of their summer internship. The fields with the highest conversion rates are:

  • Tech and Startups - 60%
  • Financial Services - 53%
  • Marketing & Analytics - 25%

*General business internships was split into financial services and marketing & analytics for more accurate insights

The pathways chart below shows many of the pivots our participants made from freshmen summer to now:

Despite this, one trend that was apparent in the data was the connection between overall summer satisfaction and major pursued.

Participants were split evenly between those whose internship role matched with their current major and those whose did not. Those whose matched had a significantly higher usefulness score of 7.1 out of 10, compared to only 4.3 out of 10 for those whose did not. It is important to note that we did not collect data on changes in major before and after freshman summer. Thus, it is unclear if freshman summer experiences caused better alignment of major preference or initial major preferences caused a better summer experience.


Summer Search Timeline

Lastly, we collected data on start and end dates of each participant’s search for summer plans. The average time spent searching was 2.5 months, with the average participant starting in early February and finishing in mid-April.

These dates varied across the different summer types:

Summer Plans Search Timeline

Key Takeaways:
  1. When analyzing correlations between timelines and summer perceptions, there was no change in average usefulness scores regardless of the length of time spent searching for plans. Thus, searching for longer does not necessarily result in a “higher quality” summer.
  2. Students who traveled or studied abroad both started and finished the earliest. Such programs typically close applications in early spring; thus we recommend freshmen who are pursuing these plans to prepare early.
  3. Students who conducted research or took classes on campus had the shortest search timeline. These students recommend being proactive in inquiring professors about their work, and looking into CURF and department-specific research grants.

Final Thoughts

This concludes our analysis of freshmen summers from upperclassmen insights. By democratizing this information, we aim to encourage future generations of Penn students to pursue more fulfilling and unique opportunities both in their summers and in post-grad ventures. Most importantly, we recognize the increasing pre-professional pressure caused by the ubiquity of students in suits around campus during the first few months of OCR. Freshman year is for making lifelong friends, developing stronger identities, and taking full advantage of being immersed in a youthful community of changemakers.

From all of the writers at The Sign.al, we implore future Quakers to take these words to heart, calm down, and just enjoy the ride.


Want to know everything from our upperclassmen?

We weren’t kidding when we said we would democratize everything. Check out our:

  1. Database of companies, non-profits, summer programs, and research opportunities curated by our participants
  2. Quotes from our participants about their summer plans of all types
  3. Select group of Sign.al mentors free to chat on-campus or email remotely anytime
Want to help us build this database for future generations?

The Sign.al will keep this project constantly updated with new summer information. That's the beauty of a strong community.

If you want to add your freshmen summer details, please fill out this form. Thanks for extending your Sign.al to others!


Study conducted jointly by Laura Gao and Sophia Ly.

Laura Gao

Aspiring designer, entrepreneur, writer and everything in between.

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