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I'll be starting college next year and am planning to do an internship over the summer. Every year I volunteer at a week-long summer camp for children who have or have had cancer.

Would it be inappropriate to ask for that week off during a summer internship? Is it unlikely for a summer intern to be given a week off?

  • I did this exact same thing for the three years I had internships. I always tried to time my week at camp to happen at either the very beginning or very end of the internship so that I was really just starting or ending early. – David K Aug 10 '16 at 12:34
  • Vote to keep open / reopen. The primary question is whether it's appropriate to ask, which isn't company specific. Plenty of people will be in this situation and it's an answerable question. The secondary question is difficult to answer but general predictions can be made. – Lilienthal Aug 10 '16 at 19:23
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How inappropriate is it to ask for a week off from a summer internship

It's perfectly appropriate to ask, as long as you don't screw up how you word it. "I'll need to take week X off" obviously won't fly and would be very inappropriate. But it's fine to ask something like:

For the past X years I've volunteered at a week-long summer camp for children dealing with cancer1. Of course I understand if taking that time off during my internship doesn't work with [your timeline / the project / your plans for this internship] but I still wanted to check if we could make this work, provided that it's not a hardship for you.

Then stop talking and check what reaction you get. Emphasize that you don't mind giving this up as I think your mindset going into this should be that you're willing to sacrifice volunteering for getting a good internship. Because of that I also wouldn't recommend bringing this up before you get an offer. The exception is if you bring up your volunteer work during an interview, which you probably should. In that case you can bring this question up earlier, though not in the first interview unless the interviewer asks.

The hiring manager's reaction will tell you whether it will be fine for you to take that time off. Keep an eye out for managers where taking a week off would really be a deal breaker but who are struggling to say no because it's a cancer camp. Once you've accepted the offer, make sure that you got your would-be manager's approval for that time off so you don't have to back out at the last minute and inconvenience people at the camp.


1 - If the camp or organisation is well known you can namedrop them instead. Some people are uncomfortable with mentioning that it's a "cancer camp" and you want to avoid making it look like they can't say no because of the context..

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Yes, you should ask. The main question is: when?

Asking for a special accommodation before you get hired can, in theory hurt your chances. They might think you aren't fully committed to the position, or will expect special treatment. Asking after you have an offer doesn't carry the same risk. However, that really depends on what you are asking for. Personally, though, I find it exceedingly unlikely that the question "Can I take a week off to help kids with cancer?" is going to hurt you.

Personally, I would say:

If taking the week off is non-negotiable, ask about it at interview. Otherwise, wait until you get the position and then see if it is possible.

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My children and other relatives have over the past few years had a variety of internships. Some have been willing to let their interns take a week off (they had PTO hours), others were neutral, and some were upfront about not allowing any vacation.

The one that expected interns to be there every workday said so in the position description that was visible before they could even apply. The company even mentioned it during the interview.

One type of internship that did limit the ability to miss days was one where the intern needed to complete X hours in order to receive the college credit. They has no problem with small schedule adjustments, but there was no point in missing enough days to fail to meet the program requirements. The position was unpaid, and you just paid money to the university to fail a class.

It is fine to ask.

If it is a deal breaker: if they say no you will not want the internship; then ask during the interview.

If it isn't a deal breaker: bring it up after you accept, but before you start,

In either scenario don't bring it up in a rude manor, but bring it up in a positive light. You want them to know you are helping others, not wanting a week off for beach week. It is best to at some point get it in writing (via email) so that they don't forget.

  • In my experience a lot of it hinges on the length of the internship. In a 6 or 8 week long internship program asking for a week of is a little on the questionable side. But summer-long 12+ week internships are usually OK with it (because they know that it's the summer and they're generally hiring college kids). – amza Aug 10 '16 at 18:25

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