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A Guide To Summer Internship Programs for Students and Employers

by | Jan 13, 2021 | Internships

Summer internships allow college students to get real-world work experience. These programs help students build their resume and take a first step toward a successful career after graduation. But students aren’t the only ones who benefit from internship programs. 

Companies that offer these programs get a first look at new talent (i.e., the interns) before they enter the workforce. Internship programs also benefit a company’s culture and its bottom line. It’s the kind of mutually beneficial relationship that makes for good business. 

Here’s an in-depth look at the benefits of summer internship programs, what they should offer, the different forms they can take, the application process, and some of the best summer opportunities (plus, what makes them so special).  

The Benefits of Summer Internship Programs

Summer internship: Old woman laughing and talking to a young woman

As we mentioned, summer internships benefit both students and companies. Here’s a look at what each party stands to gain. 

Benefits for Students

Students get work experience in their field of choice. This helps to build the student’s resume and gives them an advantage when they start applying for full-time work after graduation. 

Many undergraduate students wait until the summer between their third and fourth year to intern, but internships can also benefit students who aren’t sure what they want to do after college. 

The real-world experience provided by an internship allows students to see if they like the work associated with their degree. If a student doesn’t enjoy the reality of working in their degree field, they can course correct and look for a more suitable major. 

Benefits for Companies

The most obvious internship benefit for companies is inexpensive or free labor. Interns might not be seasoned workers, but they do have applicable knowledge from their college coursework. So, companies are getting educated workers for less (and sometimes for nothing at all). 

Internship programs also give companies a chance to recruit new talent. A company can offer full-time employment to its best interns before they go out and look for jobs elsewhere. And if the company has a not-so-great intern, they can say goodbye at the end of summer — no harm, no foul. 

Interns can also benefit a company’s culture. They bring fresh ideas, ask new questions, and help facilitate a culture of mentorship that can carry far beyond helping the interns.    

What Summer Internships Should Offer 

Summer internship: Old man talking to young interns and taking down notes

Contrary to what happens in movies and on TV, interns shouldn’t spend their time making copies and fetching coffee. A company’s summer internship program should support interns’ career goals.  

The program should introduce students to the software used in their field and allow them to try out a wide variety of tasks associated with the department they’re working in. 

For example, a marketing intern should work on social media, email, and content marketing. Also, they should have the opportunity to sit in on discussions about brand voice, style guides, strategy, and analysis. 

This allows the intern to narrow in on their career goals and decide which part of their field they like best. It also allows the company to get an idea of the intern’s strengths and weaknesses in case they want to offer the intern a full-time job at the end of the program.  

Types of Summer Internships

Summer internship: Employees brainstorming and sitting on bean bags

In this case, types of internships doesn’t mean information technology internships vs. accounting internships. There are a few broad categories that every student should consider before applying to a summer internship and that every company should consider before building a summer internship program.   

Unpaid vs. Paid Internships 

Many internship programs are unpaid, but there are some sticky labor laws that determine whether or not an unpaid internship is legal. In order for an unpaid internship to be legal in the United States, interns must meet “primary beneficiary” requirements, which at a minimum mean the intern must be an actively enrolled college student. They may also need to be participating in the internship program in exchange for school credit. 

Any company that wants to start an unpaid internship program should contact a lawyer to make sure the program is compliant with federal and state labor laws. 

Paid internship programs are always legal as long as the interns are paid at least minimum wage. Paid internships can also lead to more equality and diversity in the workplace because they allow lower-income students — who may need a wage to cover their expenses — to participate.   

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Summer Internships 

The benefit of summer programs is that they take place outside of the typical school year. With fall and spring internships, many students have to divide their time between interning and studying. But, students often have more free time in the summer, making both full-time and part-time internship opportunities an option. 

Full-time internships give students the best glimpse of life after graduation. But unpaid full-time internships can be a financial hardship because they prevent students from working a summer job. It’s therefore best practice for companies to offer an hourly wage or a stipend for full-time internships.

Part-time internships give students extra time to take summer courses or work a part-time job. For this reason, part-time summer internships can be paid or unpaid.  

Large-Scale Companies vs. Startups 

Many students are drawn to the prestige of interning at a big company. Some will even relocate to New York, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C., for the summer so they can put that big name on their resume. 

Large companies offer some of the best internship programs, especially for students who plan to spend their careers in the corporate sector. But, large companies also come with more bureaucracy than small companies, which can mean interns have less access to upper-level management and don’t get to perform as many different responsibilities. 

Small companies and startups may have less developed internship programs, but they often allow interns to take on more responsibility. However, these differences can be affected by a company’s culture as much or more than by its size.   

The Internship Application Process

Three professionals talking outside a coffee shop

The first step in the internship application process is to research internship programs with different companies. Each internship should have a clear job description that outlines the role’s responsibilities. These job descriptions may be very different from company to company — a human resources intern may do one thing at company A and another at company B. 

Once a student finds an internship they’re interested in, they can apply through the company’s website, through their school, or through an internship placement program

The application process usually requires a resume and cover letter. To prepare for the summer internship, students should update their resume. It’s important to incorporate keywords and phrases from the company’s job description. This increases the chances of the application getting to the hiring manager. 

Students can also help their application along by looking for the professional contact information of the company’s college recruiter — either on the company’s website or on LinkedIn — and reaching out to introduce themselves. 

The best time to look for a summer internship opportunity is at the beginning of the spring semester. Many internship programs have early application deadlines to allow time for the intern selection process. During the selection process, the company’s hiring managers will carefully consider applications, conduct interviews and skills tests, and extend offers to the winning applicants. 

Many U.S. companies require that applicants are U.S. citizens, but this isn’t always the case. Some larger companies accept applications from overseas students, and some overseas companies will accept applications from U.S. students. The best chance of finding an internship abroad is to look for programs at multinational companies.  

Here’s To a Successful Summer

Young woman smiling and stretching

Summer internships have so much to offer to both students and companies. Because most students are free from coursework during the summer, they can focus on the invaluable lessons they’ll learn from real-world work experience. 

Students can work with the tools of their future trade, explore different paths within their field, and narrow in on their career goals. And companies can discover their next star employees — and recruit them to be full-time employees before anyone else has the chance. 

But, with so many types of summer internships — paid, unpaid, full-time, part-time — there’s a lot to consider. Explore what top companies are doing in their internship programs, and get ready for a successful summer!

About Scholars

Scholars helps companies build engaging candidate experiences at scale. Create personalized journeys for all of your candidates from application through onboarding.

About Scholars

Internships and early-career jobs are unlike any others. They are often accepted months, if not years, in advance of the start date leaving plenty of time for candidates to change their minds and decide to work elsewhere, costing your team time and money.

There are two ways that have been proven to decrease renege rates for any company: keeping candidates engaged by sharing personalized information and helping them make connections with their future teammates. Companies use Scholars to accomplish both of these at scale.