Applying to Summer Programs

Quincy Monday ‘23 sitting in a chair working on his laptop in the lobby of New College West
Fortunately, if you’re stressed out trying to write all of these summer program applications, Princeton has plenty of comfortable study spaces to be working, like Quincy Monday ’23 in the lobby of NCW. Photo Credits: Dan Komoda (2023)

Applying to summer programs can seem like a daunting task when you may not even know what you want to do next summer. The busyness of the semester certainly hasn’t created a ton of time to be thinking about these things! Fortunately, winter break is a great time to work on applications to summer programs, as many of the earlier applications are often due early in the year. Having prepared them beforehand can ease a lot of stress, since the middle of the spring semester isn’t the most convenient time to be starting these applications. These timelines can vary by field, so it could be a bit different based on the type of program you are applying to—the career center has a great timeline of internship recruitment that is sorted by field so you can see the differences. Regardless, it’s great to work on these during the break when you don’t have courses.

You may be looking for something far away, here in Princeton, an industry internship at a company, or a research program at a university. Regardless of if you know exactly what you want to do or still aren’t sure, here are some tips to help you sort through this process.

  1. Apply to as many programs as you can

Apply to as many opportunities as you can—especially ones that have forms you can complete in a few minutes. Many of these large internships with companies may have hundreds of applicants with only a few open positions, so whether you get your top choice may be up to chance. You can remedy this issue by applying to a variety of programs, possibly even in different areas, which is great if you aren’t completely sure about what you want to do. For example, as an Astrophysics major, last year I applied to not just research positions in universities’ astro departments, but I also applied to many industry internships in optics, since that was an adjacent field that I was also interested in. Keeping an open mind and applying to more programs will ultimately give you more choice when you finish applying and get decisions back.

  1. Search around the web

You can search all around the internet for summer opportunities. Good places to look can be LinkedIn, Indeed, NSF REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates, which are usually funded by the National Science Foundation) listings, specific company sites, just general googling—something like “Vanderbilt Psychology REU”—if you know you want something specific.

A company may have a single internship listing on an external site like LinkedIn, but after you apply to that one, visit their website and view all of the other positions that may not have been listed. Applying for multiple internships at the same company increases your odds significantly, and it can be a good way to show that you are interested in working with them wherever they can fit you. This is also an easy way to apply to many positions quickly rather than scouring the internet for each one separately, though be sure to fine-tune cover letters and essay responses with reasons specific to each position!

  1. Consider Princeton Programs

Many of these external programs can be quite competitive, so consider applying to Princeton residential programs, as these have mostly Princeton students applying to them. You might be able to work with a professor that may already be familiar with you. If a program is specifically intended for undergraduates in your department, your odds of getting in are much higher, and the applicant pool will be much smaller. Princeton has many programs (many of which are listed on the Center for Career Development site and on the Office of Undergraduate Research’s Summer Research Programs page) where you can spend the summer on-campus, off-campus, or abroad ranging across STEM, Law, Public Policy, and more.

Various departments will list summer research jobs on Princeton’s employment platform, JobsX, towards the end of the semester, and you can even reach out to faculty asking if positions in their lab (or others) are available for an undergrad over the summer. If you find yourself late in the school year and still haven’t gotten any plans settled yet, these jobs working with your department can be a great opportunity to still be doing something over the summer while working more closely with your academic department (and possibly getting a head-start on a Junior Project or Senior Thesis)!

  1. Cold email companies for unpaid internship positions (and use Princeton funding)

Fortunately, Princeton has funding for unpaid internships! There are various funding opportunities for unpaid internships involving research, social impact/public policy, environmental work, and more (which you can search through on Princeton’s Student Funding site). Paid internships are great, but they also become very competitive as many students from different universities are scrambling to get funding. Take advantage of these Princeton funding opportunities to turn an unpaid internship into a fully-funded one! Most companies won’t reply to you, but that’s okay. Write a general template and send it to as many places as you can, only a few might respond, but that likely means they are interested, and will probably be more invested in you than a highly competitive application. It doesn’t take very long to copy and paste your template to dozens or hundreds of emails, and one of them could turn into a new summer opportunity!

Also keep in mind that Princeton has many resources at the Center for Career Development for reviewing résumés, cover letters, and essays for applying to internships. You can schedule an appointment, go for drop-in advising, or look at one of their many online guides on internships and application materials. I went to one of their events on cover letter writing and after writing it, I went to a drop-in session to have them look over my cover letter and resume. They were extremely helpful, and gave me advice on small changes that could make a huge difference in the strength of my application.

Whatever you end up doing, there are so many amazing programs out there that many can give you a fun and fulfilling summer experience. Also remember that if you don’t get into a program one summer, don’t hesitate to apply there again in the future! Writing, preparing, and sending all of these applications can be a stressful process, so just remember that spending more time on these sooner can help you out later. Just try not to stress too much about all of it, even if it seems chaotic in the moment.

— Xander Jenkin, Natural Sciences Correspondent

Editor’s Note: Students interested in applying to summer opportunities or who would like feedback on their materials are welcome to register for “Applying to Summer Internships & Fellowships 101: Multi-Opportunity Application Workshop. Taking place during Wintersession ’24 (on Jan. 17, from 1:00-4:00 in Frist Multipurpose Room B) this workshop brings together staff and program alums from the Office of Undergraduate Research, High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Pace Center, the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship, and the Center for Career Development to support your application needs.