University students on an academic calendar in the US often start applying to summer opportunities as early as July or August and have their summer plans completely settled by January or February. For example: prestigious finance, consulting, and software engineering internships typically take most of their applications prior to December (or even sooner!), and funded summer research opportunities such as REUs typically have application deadlines in early February.
By contrast, many high-quality opportunities for early-career EAs are on a slightly later timescale. Here are some selected opportunities, ordered by rough announcement date:
- CERI Summer Research Fellowship 2022: announced March 2022
- Effective Self-Help Internship 2022: announced February 2022
- CHERI Summer Internship 2022: deadline March 2022 (not sure when announced)
- ARC hiring round (includes intern opportunities): announced December 2021
- PIBBS Summer Research Fellowship: announced December 2021
- Redwood hiring round (includes intern opportunities): announced November 2021
- SERI Summer Internship 2021: they seem to do rolling admissions which can start early
This is potentially a problem: promising talent may be less willing to consider a summer position at an EA org once they have already committed to another opportunity.
The most strategic and dedicated EAs will probably not be affected by this gap in application timelines. Such an EA can simply apply for a backup summer opportunity (in software, consulting, etc.), only intending to actually work there if their applications to EA organizations do not work out.
However, university students newer to the EA landscape may be less likely to do this. One reason is that backing out of opportunities can damage social capital. For example, if a student has already agreed to do research with a professor, they may damage their relationship with that professor if they back out to work at an EA org instead. Additionally, submitting applications costs time and effort—a student who went through the arduous application process in the fall may be too exhausted to do it again in the spring.
Thus: in order to make the most of the talent pool at top universities, EA summer internship programs might want to consider making a conscious effort to process applications on an earlier timescale. Ideally, they would do some sort of rolling admissions, starting in August-October, in order to accommodate for both the fall-winter and winter-spring application cycles. (The great news is, many EA orgs already have relatively flexible hiring practices in place, including rolling admissions! So this intervention of additionally processing applications on an earlier timescale is hopefully low cost and high impact.)
I think there is a lot of value in providing EA internships to promising but not yet maximally engaged EAs. Often, all it takes is one internship to change the trajectory of a student. There are a lot of very smart people out there who haven't unlocked the kind of agency and confidence needed to formulate a plan like "I think I could succeed at these 5 EA orgs, and as a backup I will apply for finance/consulting/etc".
Once more EA internships are advanced farther in advance, the next big source of impact is probably better advertisement. The EA Internships Board (announced last December 2021) is already a huge step in the right direction. EA university groups might also consider advertising EA summer opportunities around the time that their university’s career fair is happening. Students might be more amenable to EA career suggestions if they arrive during the time that they are thinking about their own summer plans.