My College:
Dear Adina

Do College Students Have to Get Internships?

Adina Glickman

Dear Adina,

What kind of summer jobs/experiences are ideal or expected of college students? Is it necessary or advantageous to get a “career-related” internship or experience starting early in your college years?

Dear Parent,

Ideal? Expected? LOL. Such a 2019 notion. Right now it’s more about Coping, Adapting and Being Patient.

College students (and everyone on the planet) are up against the antithesis of "ideal" and have had to radically shift their expectations. So your question is a reasonable one but can only be answered by re-shaping it to ask things like, “what is good enough?” and “what is possible?”

Here’s what’s good: Any experience — structured as a summer internship at Google or a minimum wage job stocking shelves at the grocery store — that has the potential to provide the student with an opportunity to learn and grow.

At the age of most college students, there is much to be learned about things like showing up on time, being consistent and reliable, following instructions, interacting with all different kinds of people, communicating clearly, and handling the stress of new situations. Whether your student gets to learn and grow in these ways in an internship or at a summer job, and whether it is career-oriented or simply brings in some money, it’s good.

The college years, and especially the summers when students can stretch themselves without fear of besmirching their GPAs, are opportunities to dabble outside their comfort zone. The stretch zone may be in an internship, a camp counselor gig, an art project, as a volunteer, or in a minimum wage job. Maybe they’ll learn basic communication skills at an internship. Maybe they’ll learn those same skills as a camp counselor where they also discover that teaching kids to swim is awesome fun. Maybe they’ll learn that earning money feels great but minimum wage jobs aren’t challenging enough. The point is learning, growing, developing.

While it’s certainly prudent to think about gaining hands-on experience and beginning the lifelong endeavor of building personal and professional networks, it’s not necessary that this happen through an internship. The pivotal element is that the student be invited to reflect on what they’re learning from it — about themselves as well as the thing they’re doing. What’s advantageous is having a meaningful story to tell about what they’ve learned.

What’s possible depends on the many specifics of your student’s situation: financial needs, access to WiFi, health risks, etc. But if the goal is learning from experiences, those experiences can be found anywhere.

Your guidance is invaluable in helping your student be creative about what this summer can be about.

You can provide a broad perspective on opportunities and experiences that might not seem obvious to your student. For example, if your student is sure they are in love with coding and want an internship at Google, that’s one version of good — could even be great! But if that student has never traveled to an impoverished nation and could use some exposure to the people and cultures their engineering career might truly benefit, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and building a house in Guatemala might teach them other important things.

And BTW, the growth and learning from summer experiences shaped by “good enough” and “possible” may well turn out to be ideal.


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Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at

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