My College:
Career Prep

Why Internships Are Important in College

Scott Sager

For many college students, the old-fashioned summer job (lifeguarding, scooping ice cream, mowing lawns) has given way to a broad range of work experiences lumped together under the heading “internships.” It’s a trend your student should jump right into. Recent studies find that students who’ve done internships are three times more likely to get a job offer upon graduation than those without.

My older daughter, a college senior, had three very different summer internships.  What they all had in common was their connection to her schoolwork and expected future career. Each summer, as her experience increased, the seriousness of the positions grew as well. (The pay, however, did not!)

Every internship affords resumé-worthy experience and many lead to post-grad job offers. Most also offer:
  • Organized classes and workshops and the chance to use industry standard equipment and software
  • Pay, ranging from a lunch stipend to commuting expenses to a real wage, though some provide nothing
  • Academic credit (requires coordination with your student’s college)
  • Attendance at professional and social events

“I think all internships are useful,” a friend and fellow parent observed. “One has to learn how to work in the world, work under someone and work with someone.” My daughter learned to manage an office routine, get to work on time and dress appropriately for different workplaces with different cultures.

“My son’s best friend found an internship by cold-calling a scientist he heard on National Public Radio!”

As your student starts the internship search, remind them that, like a real job, getting an internship takes work and persistence. One year, my daughter applied for 14 internships and received one offer. The campus career center or a conversation with a favorite professor is a great place to start.

Large, established companies and competitive industries like banking and finance generally run the most professional application processes. Non-profits and arts agencies may be less formal in their internship hiring. Big or small, companies invest time and energy, often giving more than they get from the inexperienced work of interns, so when applying students should be sure to emphasize not only what they hope to get out of the experience but what they have to offer the office.

In some industries, the number of internships is too small to meet the demand.  Students may need to be creative, approaching small or new companies directly and proposing their own positions. Networking might nudge their application to the top of the pile.

Parents have roles to play.

You can help your student keep track of deadlines and the steps required to complete an application. You may yourself be a resource, connecting your student (or one of their friends) with opportunities through your professional contacts. My daughter often asks for advice about when to send an email or how to approach a potential employer.

You might also:

  • Proofread resumés and cover letters
  • Coach your student for interviews and offer perspective on wardrobe (if they’ll let you!)
  • Explain appropriate follow up (thank-you notes and emails after interviews)
  • Support them while they’re waiting for replies and through any rejections.

Before college, my daughter babysat and worked at a local water park. Applying for internships after her freshman year represented her entry into the professional world and the beginning of a real career path.

Scott Sager, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York, is the father of two daughters, one in college and the other a recent graduate. With past lives as a social worker, preschool teacher and at-home dad, he brings a broad perspective to varied topics touching on family life, child development and education. He definitely gets how unpredictable the adventure of raising children can be and how every bit of information and each connection can help parents along the way.
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