College Admissions

The Importance of Internships

The competition that high school students face when applying for admission to selective colleges doesn’t end once they’re in college. With an eye toward building a strong resume, this generation’s ambitious students are competing for the most desirable internships.

While accounting majors or engineering majors have concrete, easily articulated skills to offer employers, a student majoring in English or history will need to find ways to demonstrate how she can add value to a company, and having a couple internships on a resume can get you in for a job interview.

Internships at major corporations are very popular. According to a recent article in the New York Times, last year Google received more than 5,000 applications for fewer than 1,000 summer internships in the United States. Employers often use internships as a way to identify promising new talent, with Microsoft typically hiring about half of their 1,000 summer interns for full-time jobs.

With such stiff competition for internships, students should have a strong academic record and involvement in extracurricular activities. For the most competitive internships, you may even need previous internship experience.

A high-quality internship involves more than getting coffee or making copies. Real internships offer students the opportunity to learn about a potential career, develop marketable skills, and establish a network of contacts that can lead to a job offer upon graduation. Ideally, students gain a sense of what it would be like to work at this kind of job, valuable insight that helps them feel more confident about choosing or even ruling out a career path.

At some colleges, certain majors have internships built into the curriculum. Students get academic credit for their internship and may be required to keep a journal or write a paper about the experience. The experience can help liberal arts students make connections between what they learn in the classroom and the real world, enhancing their academic studies. Some internships are paid, but generally you don’t get both academic credit and pay.

At schools with co-op programs, like Northeastern and Drexel, where most students spend some terms working full-time in jobs related to their majors and some terms in school, you often do get paid for the time you spend working.

Even if an internship is not a required part of the curriculum, students can often incorporate an internship into their program. Some colleges have a designated internship advisor, and others have listings of available internships in the career planning office.

Students who go to college in New York, Boston, Los Angeles or any big city can find internships with major corporations or cultural institutions during the school year. This might involve spending one or two days a week at an organization. If your college is in a small town, it will probably be easier to arrange an internship for the summer.

Students who are serious about landing an internship need to start their search early and be creative about developing their own internships. Family friends can be a great resource. Sometimes asking for an informational interview or a job shadowing day to learn about a field can lead to an internship offer.

When visiting colleges, students and parents may want to ask if there is someone on staff who helps students find, apply and prepare for internships. How does the school help students integrate their internship experience with classroom studies so that the internship has maximum impact?

Having a couple of internships on the resume can be very helpful in landing a job after graduation. But even students who plan to go on to graduate or professional school will benefit from some real world experience.