When University of Maryland rising junior Zohneseh Fopenawoh was applying to internships, she says she sent an “uncountable” number of applications—likely over 100 in four months to various companies, nonprofits and organizations—but got few responses. “Any internship opportunity I saw that I thought I might even be a little bit interested in, I sent an application out,” says Fopenawoh, who is studying criminal justice, politics and economics.

Add in the pressure of an internship being required by her school, and Fopenawoh was feeling the heat. Finally, she landed two—one at Teach For America and another at the ACLU of Maryland—but none at the big law firms or companies she applied to. Still, she considers herself lucky: “Getting an internship you are genuinely interested in these days is like winning a raffle or the lottery.”

Fopenawoh isn’t the only one who felt the crunch of 2023’s internship search. Fifty-seven percent of jobseekers now say they are not confident they will find an internship or job that meets their standards, much higher than the 15% who were concerned about their chances in the fall, according to a survey of more than 3,000 Gen Zers conducted by college recruiting startup RippleMatch.

Nearly half (49%) of Gen Z job and internship seekers are submitting more than 50 applications during their search, a higher proportion of candidates that submitted that many applications last year, according to RippleMatch’s survey. Companies are also reporting more competition: ServiceNow says it saw a 50% increase in internship applications this year, while Citadel said applications were up 65% from last year, and that it accepted less than 1%, or about 300 of the 69,000 applications it received, to this summer’s program.

After three years of a global pandemic—which canceled internships, sent college students home to work remotely from their childhood bedrooms and finally, returned them to more than half-empty hybrid offices last year—2023 might have marked the summer internship’s big return. Instead, it’s been a year of continued change, as an unstable economy and a rash of layoffs have slowed the hiring of summer interns, sparking greater competition and higher uncertainty for those undertaking this white-collar rite of passage.

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