Why Your College Student Should Consider an Internship

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Students have participated in internships for years.  Apprenticeships or on-the-job training are tried and true methods of mentoring and teaching students or workers a new trade or profession.  In recent years, however, the number of college students participating in internship opportunities continues to grow as more and more schools offer structured programs and more and more employers expect graduates to have real world experience.  As a college parent, it is important that you understand, and help your student to understand, the importance of experiencing an internship while he is in school.

 What exactly is an internship?

Not all jobs qualify as internships.  Although internships may take many forms, the purpose of an internship is to provide a meaningful learning experience for the student.  It is possible that the work done during an internship may still be menial, but it should be meaningful in helping the student understand the job, profession, or field.  An internship may take place during the academic year or during the summer.  Some students may even apply for an internship after graduation.

 Interns function somewhere between a student and an employee.  Internships may be paid or unpaid, may receive academic credit or not.  The experience is intended to help the student close the gap between school and work.  Students and employers are often asked to agree on a learning contract with specific objectives for the experience. This will help the student determine what she hopes to learn from the experience and will help the employer design experiences that will help the student achieve her goals.

 How can students find internships?

Perhaps the most direct way for students to learn about internships is through the college Career Office.  Most schools have a central place which maintains lists of possible experiences.  In some schools this information may be available through the specific department.    The Career Office can also help students with cover letters, resumes, interviewing skills, and workplace expectations.  Two other excellent sources of internship opportunities are internship databases available on line and personal contacts with family and friends. 

 Why are internships so important?

Participating in an internship is an important experience to complement the learning that your student is doing in the classroom.  It can provide her with some good practical experience.  However, there are many additional, somewhat more concrete reasons why your student may want to be sure to include an internship in her college experiences.

  • According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), nearly 50% of employers would like to see an internship on a student’s resume.
  •  An internship can serve as a screening device for employers.  Again, according to a NACE survey, nearly 36% of employers hired employees from their own internship program. According to Matthew Zinman of the Internship Institute, IBM may convert as much as 50% of their interns into full time employees. 
  • An internship gives a student an opportunity to “audition” a job or a field before taking a permanent position.
  • Students who complete internships may discover gaps in their practical knowledge which may affect their course selection in subsequent semesters.  They will have the opportunity to fill in gaps before they graduate.
  • The experience of obtaining the internship itself may be part of the value of the experience.  The student will need to write a cover letter and resume, complete an application, and interview for the position.
  • Your student will gain valuable practical experience about a particular job and/or the work world in general.
  • An internship looks good on a resume – and employers are increasingly expecting to see an internship on a student’s resume.
  • Your student may make important contacts and have an opportunity to do some networking which will benefit him when he begins looking for a permanent job.
  • Employers like to hire students who have completed internships because it may increase job retention.  They know that interns have experienced the profession and the work world and “know what they are getting into.”  Your student, too, is more likely to have the practical experience to choose her job more carefully and therefore stay in the job she takes.
  • Your student may earn academic credit.
  • Even if your student finds that he does not enjoy what he is doing during his internship, he will have gained valuable experience.  He may have learned an important lesson about what he does not want to do, or a work environment in which he will not thrive.
  • Students who complete internships may receive higher salaries when they are hired.
  • Very simply, an internship may lead directly to a job offer.
  • Finally, many internships are fun – and great self-confidence builders.

 It is important that both students and parents understand that completing an internship is not a guarantee of a job.  There are no guarantees.  However, students who complete internship experiences, or multiple internship experiences, may have an advantage when it does come time for the job search.  Employers recognize the advantage of an internship, but even more importantly, the experience and confidence your student will gain will be vital.  Encourage your student to seek and experience an internship if at all possible.

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