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Internships Help Your College Student Build Career-Ready Skills

Suzanne Shaffer


College without internships is like cereal without milk, chocolate without peanut butter, the perfect dress without the perfect shoes. My daughter would be the first to agree with this statement. During college, several paid and unpaid internships helped her decide on a career path and make contacts who could assist her in finding a job after graduation.

According to one of the nation’s leading job search platforms, ZipRecruiter, an internship is an ideal way for students to:

  • Apply what they learn in the classroom
  • Discover what they like and don’t like
  • Network with the right people
  • Get experience employers want
  • Develop their personal identity
  • Transition to a full-time position

With all the competition for jobs after graduation along with the valuable lessons they’ll learn, your student can’t afford to ignore the importance of internships.

How do internships work?

The purpose of an internship is to provide a meaningful learning opportunity for the student. The company or organization also benefits because they can supplement their workforce with students, some of whom will eventually become permanent hires. Even though internships may require the student to perform what might seem like menial tasks, those tasks will help the student gather information about the job and/or industry — and they’re also a practical reminder that we all start out on the ground floor, as beginners.

Interns are student employees. Internships may be paid or unpaid and the student may or may not receive academic credit for them. Sometimes an internship connects very directly with a student’s college coursework. Before starting, a student will be informed of the particulars of the internship and specific learning objectives related to the experience.

Where do students find internships?

The campus career center is a primary source for locating internships. Most colleges and universities post opportunities in the career office and online (your student may need their campus account to access the listings). The career center can also help your student with internship-related tasks: resumes, cover letters and interview tips.

Another source for internship possibilities will be professors in your student’s area of interest. Professors maintain connections with companies and professionals in their field of expertise and will often recommend a student if they hear of a position. This is a good reason for your student to cultivate strong relationships with professors.

Your student can also check online internship databases like Internships.com, Wayup.com and YouTern.com. While online, they can search LinkedIn where companies often post internship opportunities. (If they don’t have a LinkedIn account yet, now’s the time to create one!)

Why are internships important?

An internship complements your student’s classroom learning while giving them valuable work experience. But there are other reasons your student should strongly consider adding an internship to their college credentials. According to a 2019 Internship and Co-op Report conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE):

Employers had success converting their interns from the Class of 2018 into full-time, entry-level hires. The conversion rate for this group of interns is 56.1 percent, which is more than 10 percent higher than last year and has reached its highest level since 2016. Both the offer and acceptance rates have also increased for Class of 2018 intern hires.

Internships also offer these benefits:

  • The opportunity to “try on” a career before applying for and accepting a “real” job
  • A chance to identify areas where they may need to take additional classes related to their career interests before graduation
  • Actual career-related work experience — according to the NACE survey, 50 percent of employers would like to see an internship on your student’s resume
  • The advantage of making important networking contacts at the company where they intern
  • Higher starting salaries based on career-specific work experience

How can parents help?

Parents today are more involved in their students’ lives than ever before. We need to recognize the fine line between providing encouragement and advice and inappropriate involvement. Developing good internship and job search skills is an important part of a student’s progress toward independence.

Your key role in this process is to serve as a mentor or advisor, offering guidance but allowing your student to take the lead. It’s certainly appropriate to proofread resumes and cover letters, share internship prospects you find or hear about, and discuss their career and professional goals. Do not under any circumstances compose their resume and cover letter, apply for an internship on their behalf, or follow up on communication with a potential employer.

You can also be a cheerleader when (not if) your student encounters disappointment while applying for internships. They may need to apply for 10 or 12 before landing one!

Your student is embarking on their own unique academic and professional journey. Internships should be a central part of your student’s college experience, helping them not only to secure employment after graduation but also have confidence that the job they choose will fit their personal and career goals. Supporting your student as they find their first internship will be a rewarding experience for both of you.

Read more!
A career prep timeline
Help your student make the most of a summer job or internship
Final countdown to college graduation
Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been highlighted on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College and TeenLife online and she has written for Smart College Visit, College Focus, Noodle Education and Road2College. Her articles have also been featured in print in TeenLife, UniversityParent and CollegiateParent publications.

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