Your “No Summer Internship” Fallback Plan

Dana Guterman
Updated: February 7, 2020

Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you’d planned. The days are getting warmer, school’s out, and you don’t have a summer internship. Take a deep breath and give yourself a minute to feel your feelings. You might feel sorry for yourself, sad, angry, anxious …

That’s all okay. Once you’ve cleared your head, it’s time to move on and consider your alternatives. Plan A didn’t work. It’s likely that plan B (frantically apply to a dozen internships a day throughout all of May) didn’t work either. Here are some options for plan C.

1. Think small.

You’ve read about all the perks of Fortune 500 internship life, and that name recognition’s siren call is definitely hard to resist—but those internships are also extremely competitive! If you refocus your search on small, local businesses, you’ll really increase your odds—even at the last minute. A lot of companies don’t even post jobs, and the same is true for internships, so now’s the time to check in with your family friends, the local nonprofit, or the boutique IT start-up. Even if you’re headed home for the summer, ask your neighbor if she needs an office assistant. Stop into local shops to offer your social media savvy. You never know unless you try!

2. Volunteer.

Spending the summer rubbing elbows with C-Suite executives and getting paid sounds pretty great, but the real point of an internship is to get useful real-world experience that will get you a good (and well-paying!) job after you graduate. Volunteering won’t pay the bills, but it can get you valuable experience and connections. If you’re lucky enough to be in a financial situation that allows you to volunteer (and if not, we’ve all been there, so see option three below), you can get relevant experience in pretty much any field. Visit your college’s career center to kick things off, or email/call the volunteer coordinator at any local nonprofit. You should be able to find their contact information through a quick search. Most places won’t turn down free labor, so look for organizations that will challenge you and grow your skill set.

3. Get a job.

It might not be as glamorous as an internship, and sure, it’s probably not a point of interest on your dream-job journey, but a job is a job. A lot of skills from a day job can be applied at the office: customer service, working well under stress, even just showing up on time. A job also gives you two very-important things: money and another line on your resume. And while you’re there, you can talk to management about expanding your responsibilities. Maybe you’re studying graphic design and you’ve noticed that your employer’s logo is outdated. Send them some mock-ups! If nothing else, they’ll be impressed by your initiative and you’ll have a new item for your portfolio.

4. Keep on learning.

Real-world experience is great, but if you can’t get it, you can still hone your skills by taking some summer classes. Whether you take an online course to get certified in project management, attend art history classes at a nearby community college, or study glass blowing at the local adult school, taking summer classes shows future employers that you have a passion for a certain subject and a desire to improve yourself. If you can’t swing the cost, consider the plethora of free online classes out there. You can learn to code, become an expert on SEO, or hone your networking skills.


Often, the best option is a combination of the possibilities above. You can create your own 40-hour work week, tailored to your individual needs and preferences. Earn money by working a part-time summer job 20 hours a week, devote 10 hours to volunteering, and hone your skills through 10 hours of classes. At the end of the summer, you’ll have a nice balance of cash, experience, and new skills—and next summer, you’ll be a prime candidate for the internship of your choice!