Internships are essential for college students and recent grads joining a competitive job market. They offer training, professional development, valuable networking and (usually) an opportunity to earn some money, too.
Students who complete at least one internship before they graduate strengthen their resumes and set themselves apart from their peers. An internship provides a structured learning experience in some aspect of a career they may want to pursue. To get the most out of an internship, it helps to be focused on several basic questions. For instance, is a paid internship necessary to reduce student loan debt or is an unpaid internship ok just for the experience? Is there a preference for a big company or a start-up? No matter the type of internship, find one that provides the resources, equipment, and facilities to help make for the best learning experience.
When to get an internship:
College is the most practical and beneficial time to get an internship. Although internships can be applied for almost anytime, most students hold off until after their freshman year. This allows time to get acclimated to the new environment and focus on college studies. Internships can be found near campus during the academic year, and also during the summer – often away from campus, offering the additional experience of living somewhere else. Internships require a lot of time and effort, so many students opt not to balance schoolwork and internship responsibilities at the same time, making the summertime the best option for most.
While it’s never too early or too late to get an internship, those that are done after junior year are often the most valuable. Students generally have taken enough classes to give them basic knowledge in a specified field. Many employers use junior year internships as a way to vet candidates for jobs and it’s not unusual for junior year interns to receive full-time offers that start after graduation. And ambition can help, as the statistics show that students who get two or more internships before graduating often have better job offers at higher starting salaries.
Benefits of getting an internship:
Students use internships as an important part of the process of determining how they will transition from an academic to a work environment. Internships offer students an opportunity to identify new interests in their current field of study and explore options for potential career paths. Interns apply what is learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios, and interact with professionals who may eventually serve as mentors. The importance of beginning to establish a professional network cannot be overstated. It is important to build relationships with employers and peers to gain references for future use. Sometimes, the value of the internship is defining a job in a career path that a student may not want. One of our interns was a computer science major, took a summer internship in computer science research and found out pretty quickly that this would not be a career path they would enjoy.
Paid vs Unpaid Internships:
The main difference between an unpaid intern and a paid intern is obvious. Unpaid internships don’t offer monetary compensation but may still be worthwhile. Some colleges offer stipends or credit for structured internship programs. Some college programs even require some sort of internship as a requirement to graduate. This experience is meant to benefit the student, but it is important for the student to know the requirements in advance — particularly regarding whether they will be paid — to avoid any confusion.
Obviously, paid internships are preferable. What’s not to like about getting paid to gather important work experience? These earnings will help reduce any student loan borrowing that would have been necessary to meet college expenses for tuition, room and board and other expenses.
How to find an internship:
There are thousands of internship opportunities out there- it’s simply a matter of finding the right one. Many students visit their college career center to find out what resources are offered. Typically job boards are filled with internship positions and various career workshops to attend. Many colleges also offer electronic platforms such as Handshake, which sometimes shows internships available exclusively for students at that particular college. Although this is a great place to start, these listings are highly competitive; with so many eager students and only a limited amount of positions, it’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan. Other online internship resources include Indeed.com, Internships.com, LinkedIn and Monster.com. These sites allow users to create a profile and sift through job listings catered to their major/career interests. Many listings will offer a job description along with expectations and requirements. Before starting an internship search it would be a good idea to see what’s out there, weigh options and apply for positions providing the best benefits.
It is also important to take advantage of friends, family members, and former employers to see if they have any internship opportunities available. Check out local social media outlets and job fairs to help identify internships opportunities that might be just the right fit.
Once an intern is placed, it is important to use the limited time at the company to ensure that the internship is worthwhile. Interns should have some work product or project that they can showcase from their internship. The most successful interns set goals at the beginning of the internship and ensure that they are accomplished by the end of the program. They work with their employer to measure their progress, document their work, and keep track of their accomplishments.