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Sophomore Summer: Preparing for Career Success

Aug 11, 2023
Make your sophomore summer count! Learn how to strategically plan for success and set the stage for your professional journey.

By Eigen Escario

Pictured: Cherrie Wilkerson, Vanderbilt Associate Dean for Young Professionals Program

Cherrie Wilkerson

The summer before sophomore year—dubbed “sophomore summer”—is often seen as the last break of relaxation before stepping into the professional world of internship tracks and job offers. However, there are different ways students can use this time more wisely in preparation for the rest of their college careers. Cherrie Wilkerson, Vanderbilt Associate Dean of Young Professionals Programs, shares a few keys to a successful sophomore summer.

Building Your Professional Brand

While most internships targeted at college students—especially at recruitment events on campus—generally only take rising juniors and seniors, Wilkerson says that recruitment timelines are increasingly starting earlier for students.

“The recruiting and the job market have been starting earlier and earlier for students,” Wilkerson said. “While most rising sophomores have fun traveling and going to the beach, there’s other students out there who are building their resume during that summer.”

Pictured: Vanderbilt Accelerator students

Despite the difficulty of obtaining an internship offer for your sophomore summer, Wilkerson says that this should be a time of reflection and future planning.

“It’s hard to get internships sophomore summer as opposed to junior summer,” Wilkerson said. “But what you do during the sophomore summer will set you up for your junior summer internship. That means taking time to refine your interests and skills is essential.”

A strong foundation to enter the application process for internships and jobs entails networking and developing your professional pitch to potential employers and companies.

“Start to network and make contacts in the industry that you’re interested in—tap your family, your friends, organizations on your campus, or wherever you can to widen your professional network.” Wilkerson said. “Tap into your career center so you can get your resume up to par and build out your LinkedIn model—whether it be posting things, looking at other people’s posts, or simply immersing yourself in the professional environment as much as you can.”

Navigating Sophomore Summer With Purpose

The idea of competing with more experienced rising juniors and seniors for internships may seem daunting for students right out of their freshman year, but as long as you are taking incremental steps to improve yourself, you will stay on the course to success.

“Assuming you have the months of June and July, almost the whole month of May, and half the month of August off for the summer, that’s a ton of time,” Wilkerson said. “It’s okay to take a month’s vacation; that leaves you 10 weeks for an internship if you are able to do one. If not, that’s also fine as long as you ultimately show some progress, some forward movement, and some idea of what you want to do in a few short years.”

pictured: Accelerator students in class

Investing some time to plan out your junior year is another great use of the end of your sophomore summer, especially since these building blocks culminate in the recruitment processes that happen during junior and senior summers for eventual job offers after graduation.

“Joining and participating in organizations you are passionate about and rising to leadership positions in those spaces are attractive to big consulting firms who recruit on campus,” Wilkerson said. “Have a mix of professional and personal interests. Focus on a few key pursuits rather than spreading yourself too thin with too many organizations since you also need to keep your grades up to get your choice of internships and jobs.”

And for those who already want to go ahead and get started with an internship, asking yourself some key questions about what you’re looking for would make any experience more valuable.

“Some students need to make money, so if you’re going to weigh that over holding out for something that is more meaningful and relevant for your career path, then go and do that,” Wilkerson said. “Regardless of the internship, you have to contribute a lot and work hard to learn all you can about that field and create a network of peers and mentors who will help you make the most out of your sophomore summer experiences.”

Finding A Stimulating Experience

Understandably, most students just want to have fun during their sophomore summer. However, finding a perfect balance of fun and professional development would be a win-win for your break and your resume.

“You should try to find a job that is fun and a career that is stimulating. If it’s an internship, you need enough passion to show up every day with genuine enthusiasm for what you’re learning, the people you’re meeting, and the environment that you’re getting exposed to – even if you’re just dealing with organizing files,” Wilkerson said. “You need to have an attitude of viewing your work as something fun—if they’re not synonymous for you, then you’re on the wrong track.”

Fortunately, there are some programs that are available to incoming sophomores that provide great alternatives to internships or summer jobs back home.

“The Accelerator® Summer Business Immersion program at Owen essentially gives students 3 in-depth internships in one because you are working for 3 different, real clients during those 3 weeks,” Wilkerson said. “It positions you well for the rest of the recruitment process since you have networking opportunities with people who are in your fields of interest, as well as our career coaching staff to refine your resume and meet contacts.”

Gaining experiences in learning environments like Accelerator also gives you the necessary flexibility and buffer to pivot if you need to recalibrate your short and long-term professional goals.

“The program accelerates your preparation for your career, even if you end up deciding that you don’t want to commit to a particular field after,” Wilkerson said. “I had an Accelerator student last year who always wanted to go into investment banking and took all of the necessary steps to do so. After the program, he came to me and confessed that he changed his mind, so at least he found out before he put all his eggs in one basket.”

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