The Different Types of Internships for College Students
By Deborah Federico
Last week in my career development class, we were discussing the subject of internships. I asked the students, “How many internships should you have?” One student answered, “As many as you can.” Exactly right! Internships are a terrific way to test the professional waters, to develop your transferable skills and to build your resume. Most importantly, employers are looking for candidates with internship experience.
A recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 42 percent of the seniors with internship experience who applied for a job received at least one job offer, compared to only 31 percent of seniors who had no internship experience. So, as tempting as it is to return to your summer lifeguarding position, I’m sure I don't need to convince you of the importance of doing an internship.
Start early enough and you can complete more than a few internships, of which there are a wide variety I would highly recommend having a variety of internship experiences to help you discern what you want to do upon graduation and which types of work environments you prefer. To help you understand the different types of internships for college students, I've created this guide:
Paid vs. Unpaid: Many internships are paid, particularly those at larger companies with established internship programs, but some smaller companies have paying internships as well. If you do land an unpaid internship, see if the company might be willing to give you a stipend or provide you with meal or transportation expenses. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the legality of unpaid internships (you can get more information here). I would also recommend speaking with the staff at your career services center if you have any concerns.
Sometimes students tell me that they can’t afford to do an unpaid internship because they need to make money during the summer. That’s a legitimate point. My answer to them is to consider working a part-time job while doing a part-time unpaid internship. Another option is to do the unpaid internship during the academic year.
Paying to get an internship: Speaking of pay, some students will ask me if they should pay a company to find them an internship. My immediate, gut response was always to say “no,” but I decided recently to post this question in the Career Counselors Consortium NE group on LinkedIn. The majority of respondents felt that same way I do. There are enough internships available that you should be able to find one on your own (or with the support of your Career Services office).
Internships for academic credit: Sometimes employers will offer you academic credit for your internship in lieu of pay. Check with your school’s Career Services office about how these are handled. Most colleges require that you enroll in an internship course in order to receive credit.
Formal vs. Less-structured: Many large firms have formal internship programs with specific recruiting cycles. Make sure you know the recruiting timeline for your industry so that you don’t miss that critical window. These internships typically have clearly defined roles, with clearly defined career paths. If you’re more of an entrepreneurial type, you might prefer the less-structured environment of a smaller company where you may be able to define your own internship. If there is a dream company that you want to work for, but they don’t have any advertised internships, then create a internship proposal and present it to them.
Summer internships vs. Academic year: Most students do their internships during the summer, but some students do them during the academic year as well. If you need to take summer classes, try to find a part-time internship near your school. As stated above, the more internships you do the better, but your GPA shouldn’t be taking a hit as a result of your internship, since some companies have specific GPA cut-off requirements for full-time positions. As with most things in life, balance is the key.
Full-time vs. Part-time: Internships in the summer can be either full-time (40 hours+/week) or part-time (less than 40 hours, but varies widely). Obviously, internships during the academic year are part time. These types of internships usually offer a great deal of flexibility, because employers realize that you are juggling your studies as well.
Freshmen internships: As more students become aware of the value of internships, I have seen more and more freshmen coming to talk to me about how to find an internship. I always answer them honestly and say that there aren’t too many internships for freshmen. But there are some. I also tell them not to get hung up on the word internship, and at this stage of their career, a job can be equally as beneficial as an internship, if they’re developing their transferable skills and getting exposed to the working environment in their specific field.
Sophomore internships: There are many more internships for sophomores than there are for freshmen, but not as many as there are for juniors. I often tell sophomores that the sophomore summer is a time for career exploration. It’s okay at this stage to not know for sure what you want to do upon graduation and this is the time to test drive different career options.
Junior internships: Junior year is the most critical in terms of internship choice, because it should be related to what you ultimately want to do upon graduation, and might be the first experience employers will be seeing on your resume when you apply for full-time jobs. Many large companies use their junior summer intern pool to harvest their full-time hires.
Internships for international students: International students must do an internship for academic credit in order to comply with CPT (Curricular Practical Training) rules, and it must be related to their course of study, but they can get paid as well. Be sure to visit your school’s international students' office so you clearly understand all the rules regarding internships in the U.S. It’s much easier for international students to find internships than full-time positions because there is no company sponsorship involved. Be advised, though: some companies won’t hire international students for internships if they recruit full-time hires from their internship pool.
Study Abroad Internships: Many colleges have study abroad programs which include an internship component. Not only will you gain valuable internship experience with these programs, but you’ll also get to experience working in a different culture.
Deborah Federico is an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Career Services in the School of Management at Boston University. Prior to her career in higher education, Deborah worked in the corporate world, primarily doing marketing and market research. She blogs about career advice here and her LinkedIn profile is here.