Internships, as you may have heard, are an important learning experience for your four-year liberal arts experience at Luther (or any other college). Internships here are mostly utilized by students during the summer, during J-Term, or in some cases a whole semester. However, internships work differently for international students. I was not too clear about what kinds of internships I could venture into, with my authorization status to work legally in the United States. If you're an international student, these may be questions that you would ask yourself. Preparing beforehand by taking these factors into consideration is very important prior to committing to an internship.
The difference between CPT and OPT and its significance
When you're thinking about an internship, these two terms will frequently come up because they're the very first steps to applying for an internship. CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training, which is a temporary authorization for practical training directly related to your program of study (your major). I would like to add that pursuing two majors in college can come in handy when looking for internships since your internship scope will be broader. This is the temporary authorization for you to be able to work LEGALLY in the United States, so it is a very important step in the process of venturing into an internship! Now, I'll try not to complicate my explanation of this process, but there are a few important aspects to note about obtaining your CPT. You'll be provided with a folder that contains the following documents:
1. Registering for your internship credit (note that international students cannot apply for internships that aren't related to their major, and when applying for an internship, it will be registered and credited under your major. You will also pay registration fees for that which aren't too costly).
2. A student internship agreement.
3. Learning plans (which you will fill out once you've completed the internship).
4. Documents for you to describe your internship and how it's related to your major, as well as your goals for this practical learning experience (you will also need the professor of your major to approve of this internship).
When all of these are completed, the Career Center will approve your internship, and then you may proceed to the Diversity Center for the authorization of your CPT. You'll meet up with your DSO (Designated School Official) to proceed with updating your I-20 and SEVIS (I know there are a lot of terms, but you'll be familiar with them once you get here, trust me!). Once your I-20 is updated, congratulations! You're now legal to work in the United States! (temporarily) Don't worry about this process, the Diversity Center organizes many workshops to assist you. This is also not a lengthy process; I got mine done all in a day! Throughout your time in college, you'll be able to work as many internships as you like, as long as your CPT period does not exceed 365 days. Otherwise, you could affect your OPT, which I'll talk about now.
OPT stands for Optional Practical Training and it's an authorization that allows F-1 students' real work experience related to their program of study. Most students choose to apply for OPT after graduation so that there may be a chance for long-term employment. I will not dive too deeply into OPT, however, because I'm not entirely sure of the process. I will try my best to update you once I get to my senior year!
Writing Resumes and Cover Letters
As I've mentioned, the Career Center has been helping me a great deal in my internship process. Writing your resume and cover letter is difficult, especially if you want to make sure it's as professional as possible so that it can earn you an internship or even a job! Not to worry, the Career Center actually provides workshops that guide you on writing good resumes and cover letters for any internship or job. In the workshops, there are guides in a huge variety of resume styles and, most importantly, for every major on campus! These guides are very tedious, but they help a lot in making sure that you get the details right on your resume.
Housing and funding
Now, housing and funding are especially critical in the internship preparation process. Some internships are paid and some aren't, and this aspect is important to think about funding. Internships that are not paid will sometimes come with stipends and accommodations, whereas internships that are paid, may not come with the same privileges. The internship that I am venturing into this summer is paid, so lodging, food, and transportation are all on me. My internship office is based in Chicago, and its rates are very expensive; not too affordable for a student like me. It was recommended that I live in a university dorm and find a roommate who is doing an internship during the summer, but I wasn't too comfortable with rooming with a stranger. I also wanted some time to myself this summer, so that was not an option I was really interested in.
I decided to set up an appointment with the Career Center to seek help for my housing situation. I met up with Dan Marlow who has been extremely helpful in this internship process. We pulled up the Luther alumni directory and searched up alumni who live in Chicago. He suggested that I send an email to these alumni to ask if I could rent an extra room in their place. I did as he suggested and got super affordable housing in Chicago! It is a bit inconvenient for me transportion-wise, but I was so relieved to have found affordable housing this summer. Believe me when I say Luther alumni are some of the best resources we have here on campus.
Even with housing under control, it is still expensive to live in Chicago. Dan Marlow also suggested that I applied for the summer internship funding through the Career Center, which is not guaranteed. I just got the news today, however, that my application was successful! It is another relieve to have extra money for food, transportation, and internship registration stipends!
Shoutout to the Student Support Organizations
Here's a shoutout to the Career Center, the Diversity Center, and my professors for being a tremendous support for my internship preparation. I'll be sure to write about my internship experience when I come back in the fall. I hope this was a helpful article to those out there (especially prospective international students) who are already thinking about internships. On a side note, try to start your internships as soon as possible, don't wait until your junior or senior year!