An internship is an opportunity to experience a career that matches your academic and personal interests. It provides you with practical experience in the workplace, and the real-world skills you learn will make you a more valuable employee — which could mean more job offers when you start looking for full-time work.
Every student should participate in at least one internship program before they graduate. But, not all internships are created equal. Here’s a look at the different types of internships, the benefits of working as an intern, and some of the best opportunities available.
Types of Internships
You can find an internship in nearly any field — from human resources to graphic design. But regardless of the field you pursue, you’ll see a few types of internship programs, including part-time and full-time options, and paid and unpaid options. You’ll also have a slightly different experience depending on which semester you choose to intern.
Part-time internships are available year round. They allow students to pursue academic coursework or work another part-time job while they complete their internship program. These internships can be paid or unpaid.
Full-time programs are more common in the summer and are more likely to be paid (although this isn’t always the case). A full-time internship will give you the best idea of what life will be like after graduation, and it will give the company you intern for the best idea of what it would be like to hire you as a full-time employee.
It can be very challenging to work a full-time internship and take classes or hold another job at the same time. If you can, plan to devote your entire semester to your internship, and only your internship — this will prevent you from getting burnt out before you even enter the workforce.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires companies to pay employees at least minimum wage for their work. But, employment laws for interns are complicated because they aren’t always considered employees. So, some companies offer unpaid internships that are strictly intended as a learning experience for the students involved.
Unpaid internships are more likely to be part-time experiences, allowing students to take college courses or work a paid job at the same time. These can also be more flexible options — because the employer isn’t paying you, they may be more willing to work with your schedule.
Many companies do pay their interns — usually with an hourly wage or a stipend. A stipend is similar to a salary. Similar to how a salary provides a set amount of money for the year, a stipend provides a set amount of money for the period of time that you’re interning, which is typically one semester.
There’s more competition for paid internships, which means you’ll have to be more diligent during your application process. But, because a paid internship can replace a part-time job that isn’t related to your future career, they’re worth the extra work.
Fall and Spring Internships
Fall and spring internships typically run one semester (either the fall or the spring, usually not both), and they’re more likely to be part-time. Most students take coursework during these semesters, so you’ll have to split your focus between the two. You may also have to choose an internship with a company near your university, unless you have the option to take classes online or work a remote internship.
If you’re graduating at the end of a fall or spring semester, these internships are a great opportunity to network and try to land a full-time job offer just in time for graduation.
Summer internships are often full-time, immersive experiences. You can get an idea of what it’s like to work full-time, and you can often participate in the company’s networking events and corporate programs, just like a full-time employee.
If you’re not taking classes during the summer, you can also consider relocating for the season. This could allow you to work for major companies in Boston, New York, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C.
The Benefits of Doing an Internship
An internship can give you a major advantage after you graduate. Here’s how.
Gain Industry Insight
While interns are often assessed in the workplace for their skills and abilities, interns should also be assessing their employer and the industry. Practical experience in a position exposes the good and bad aspects of a particular field. You can decide if the industry is the right fit for you and if the company is one that you would like to work for full time.
For example, you might be interested in broadcast television, but with an internship, you may learn that this career is faster paced than you bargained for. An internship allows you to test-drive your chosen career before you make a commitment.
Start Your Professional Network
An internship is a great way to build a professional network of contacts. Good relationships with colleagues can be invaluable once you enter the workforce. Invitations to industry events, meetings with others in your industry, and possible referrals to job opportunities can boost your career no matter what field you choose.
However, contacts, like plants, must be nourished. When you move on from your internship, stay in touch with your contacts through LinkedIn, or send annual holiday notes or an email update about your recent career changes.
Build a Stronger Resume
An internship is a great way to improve your resume before you enter the workforce. College students who complete an internship will have real-world work experience to put on their resumes.
After graduation, there’s a lot of competition for entry-level positions. Showing that you already have the skills required for your chosen profession will set you apart from the competition and give you an edge in the marketplace. When you describe an internship on your resume or job application, be specific about what tasks you performed and how you were of benefit to your employer.
Find Full-Time Employment
Many employers consider their interns the best potential candidates for a full-time position. Once you intern for a company, you are familiar with the corporate culture and typically require less training. And since you’ll know what the job will entail, your transition to full-time work can be less stressful.
Get Confidence Boost
Your first full-time job can be challenging. There will be a steep learning curve as you learn the tools of your trade, improve your communication skills, and get to know colleagues. An internship is an opportunity to take on these new experiences in an environment where you’re expected to be learning, not expected to be perfect. After you complete an internship, you’ll feel more equipped to take on new responsibilities.
Where To Find an Internship
There are a lot of resources you can use to find the internship that’s right for you. Here’s where to look as you begin your internship job search:
- Your university career center: Your university likely has relationships with the local community and can help you find internship opportunities nearby.
- Traditional career sites: Sites like Indeed and Glassdoor allow you to search for internship jobs and set up job alerts.
- Social media: Many large companies have university recruiters who you may be able to contact through LinkedIn. You can also reach out to your network to see if anyone knows of exciting internship opportunities.
- Scholars: Scholars helps connect students with internship opportunities at some of the best companies in the United States — from nonprofits to tech companies. When you sign up, you’ll get job alert emails sent to your inbox once a week. And because Scholars is solely dedicated to internships and entry-level jobs, you’ll know you’re qualified for every opportunity.
To explore internship opportunities at specific companies, check out the Scholars podcast.
An Internship Is an Opportunity
Every high school, college, and graduate student should participate in an internship program. An internship can teach you more than any other college course.
You can experience your chosen career first hand and decide if it’s right for you. Plus as you work, you’ll gain practical experience that can give you an advantage when you enter the job market. An internship is a first step on the path to your future career. Take that step today.