Thoughts for Students and Families on Internships

As students and their parents continue to focus on the employment outcomes for their investment in post-secondary education, the resulting emphasis on internships during the sophomore and junior year of college will continue to increase. Further fueling this emphasis on internships are the employers, who are competing to land the best talent for their organizations. Since job offers often come after a student completes an internship, internships are often considered “the new first job.”  With that in mind, here are a few thoughts for students and their families on internships:

  1. The pressure of accelerated career planning. An unfortunate consequence of the early focus on internships is that it has caused a shortening of career exploration time and development time for college students. As more students try to get internships early in their academic career, they are forced into making a career choice sooner. This causes stress for students and their families, and can lead to poor career decision making.
  1. Searching for an internship can be a year-long, time-consuming endeavor. One of the biggest challenges a career counselor has is helping the student that shows up in April or May and asks about finding a summer internship. Internships searches done the right way begin in the fall when a student arrives back on campus in the fall! Searching for an internship requires time and preparation of supporting documents, such as resumes, cover letters, and online profiles. Students should be able to articulate the skills and experiences in an interview. They also need to be able to answer questions about the type of internship they are pursuing and possible locations of the internship. This works best when the preparation begins early in the academic year.
  1. It is not so much an internship that matters, but rather an applied learning experience. Depending on your course of study or career interest, you may be looking for something other than a formal internship. For instance, if a student is looking at careers in the sciences, they may want to spend their summer completing some type of undergraduate research experience with a faculty member. Students who want to teach may be served best by working at summer camp.
  1. No internship, no problem. Professional skills that employers want can also be developed without internships. The National Association of Colleges and Employers lists the following areas of professional skill development: Communication, Teamwork and Collaboration, Leadership, Creativity and Problem-solving, Professionalism and Productivity, Application of Technology, Global Perspective, and Career Management. Often times summer jobs,  campus work study, and involvement in campus organizations can help develop those professional skills. Read more on NACE professional skill development.
  1. Your Career Center can help! Stop by your college’s career center for help. Many colleges and universities have internship programs sponsored by alumni and other friends of the institution that are only open to students from that institution. They are also well-versed in helping students locate online resources that list openings, and how best to network to find out about hidden internships.