The 15 Best Internships for College Students Where and Why Students Should Pursue Hands-on Experience

While trying to balance school work, social activities, personal health and a job, students may wonder if completing an internship while in college is really worthwhile. However, internships can come with a range of unique benefits, particularly for college students. One key to reaping all that internships can offer is choosing a quality internship that provides experience and opportunities relevant to a student’s interests and career goals. Students can learn about the importance of internships and find examples of top programs to help them find the best hands-on experience.

Meet the Expert

Rachel Hengesh Brand Marketing Manager, Jumpstart Foundry

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2018 Spotlight: Best 15+ Internships for College Students

There are tons of internships available to college students, but choosing a quality program that fits their educational and professional goals can be overwhelming. Students can start their search by checking out the following top internships across different fields.

Why Internships Matter

Internships in college are much more than resume-boosters; they can also serve as opportunities for students to try out different career paths before committing. For instance, a student might take a marketing internship and find in the process that the responsibilities of the human resources staff are more in line with their interests. This can be a huge benefit to students who might otherwise put a ton of time and money into a degree program that ultimately leads to a poor career fit. Similarly, students who have multiple interests can try a few different internships to see if one stands out above the rest when it comes to professional applications. Internships also expose students to the practical application of their studies, adding a deeper, more nuanced layer to their education.

Career-related experience is an increasingly common expectation employers hold for college graduates. Around 91 percent of employers prefer to hire candidates with work experience, particularly if it’s relevant to the position in question, according to 2017 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). When a degree alone doesn’t seem like enough, students may wonder how they should get hands-on experience while still in college gaining the skills and knowledge they need to start their career paths. Internships fill a vital role in marrying college studies with the practical work experience that employers value and demand, and they also come with many other benefits.

Along with job-specific skills, students can gain or hone a huge range of soft skills, which translate well to virtually any field. Plus, working with others and getting familiar with life after graduation can bolster confidence and help students feel prepared to enter the professional realm. The connections students can make with those outside of school are valuable, too, as these can lead to personal relationships and career opportunities, even if the internships themselves don’t directly lead to employment.

While internships can be great exploratory tools, they can also serve as the most direct route to employment after college. NACE also found that nearly 71 percent of undergraduate seniors planned to go straight into the workforce after college. For many students, researching places they’d like to work after graduation and taking internships there is the surest way to make that happen. Many employers offer their own internship programs and source new hires from the intern pool. After all, through these programs, employers can establish relationships with interns, and they know the interns have already been trained and are familiar with company operations and goals, saving employers time and money. In 2018, 59 percent of students were offered employment after completing their internships, according to NACE, so applying for meaningful internships at potential workplaces can pay off for students as well.

Internships may also be important to students simply because many schools require them for graduation. Because work experience is expected of new grads, colleges are trying to meet that demand by encouraging or requiring students to complete internships. Even when not required, internships can translate to academic credit, which adds some incentive for students. For those who are lucky enough to land paid internships in their field, it may even feel like they are getting paid to earn college credit.

Your College Internship Questions Answered

Rachel Hengesh Brand Marketing Manager, Jumpstart Foundry

Q: What can students get from internships that they might not necessarily get from their degree program alone?

A: Sorry to break it to you, but “real life” moves much quicker than any college textbook. Principals are foundational, but experience is vital.

Q: Do employers and recruiters place extra value on students who have participated in internships?

A: One hundred percent. Employers take a risk with hiring a new employee; to alleviate that risk, students validate their worth through internships. Prestigious internships showcase intelligence and diligence but landing them could also mean you just have good connections. Your manager at your internship, who knows your work and can give a good word, is where the extra value is. However, any internship can add value. Some of the most valuable things I learned from my five internships were soft skills. I learned how to work with different personality types, and I learned how my personality works best. I also learned how to communicate with managers, co-workers and the C-suite; efficiently take notes; hold a leadership role with peers; ask questions that are thinking five steps ahead; prevent challenging co-workers from getting to you; make friends at work; seek advice from a mentor; deal with stressful deadlines and missing marks. In addition, I came out of a summer internship with a tool-box on the pharmaceutical advertising industry, which has continuously been my most utilized asset in my current position.

Q: Is it enough to simply complete an internship, or do employers look for something more, like whether the internship is related to a student’s field of study or prospective career?

A: I’d say it depends on what type of internships one is applying for. If you want to be an accountant, then yes, an accounting internship is vital, but if you are still exploring areas, try out different things! I hated one of my internships in New York, but that experience and name on my resume gave me enough credibility to apply to the internship I ultimately wanted. It was there that I learned what I wanted to do: health care technology. I had no idea that this was going to be my path, but it was a curiosity and eagerness to try that got me there.

Q: What are some things students should look for when choosing internships that are a good fit for them? In other words, how can students find meaningful internships rather than “resume fillers?”

A: Look at the people. Are they inspired, fulfilled and excited for the company? Consider also taking an internship in a startup; there you can wear many hats. Through OhanaHealth, I was placed at a seed-stage venture capital firm. I run marketing, deal source email campaign, create video content, write blogs on health care trends, run social, create databases, write investor reports, analyze company data and pitch to the press. That’s a whole lot more exposure than a corporate company can typically provide.

Q: Many internships are competitive; how can students make themselves good candidates for internships?

A: Authentic initiative. You can no longer rely on a resume to get you an internship; one has to take the reigns, make genuine connections and continuously show up. Tangibly, this means making LinkedIn connections with those who have your dream job and grabbing coffee to pick his or her brain. Be authentic in your desire to connect, ask curious questions and, please, have good grammar.

Q: Besides work experience, are there other benefits to doing internships in college?

A: Connections: your network is your most valuable asset. Having work experience matters, but having those coworkers, managers or even the CEO on your team who can vouch for you, your character, work ethic and passions can matter more. At the internship, try going to meetups and industry events. Dive in as if you were an employee. Go out to eat with your coworkers and learn how to best balance life after college. It is quite a change to the 9-to-5 (or 8-to-7), and getting a taste of a shift in lifestyle for a summer helps a lot. I moved from Texas to New York for eight months without knowing anyone. The concept of meeting new people, learning to navigate the city, deal with angry power-walkers, uphold a tight budget and lug around a parka and snow boots was quite a challenge that was not only good for professional, but also personal development.

Q: What other insights or advice do you have for students who are trying to land quality internships while in college?

A: Sincerity will eventually shine through. If you are truly passionate about an industry, topic, career etc., then reach out and pursue it. Continuously apply your skills in any outlet – I think internships are great – and whether it is your favorite experience or not, you are validating your work ethic and character. If not internships, be the best lead on school projects, Greek life positions or clubs. Stay connected with your mentors, talk to your teachers after class and remember that the “dream job” is a build. Do internships, network, work hard, provide value – it will come.

Additional Internship Resources

Finding the right internship can take time. Students can continue their internship search and preparation by checking out these resources.

CEI Internships

CEI Internships verifies and compiles quality internships for students of all disciplines. Students must attend a subscribing school to have full access to the database, so they should check with their career services office for details.

Cultural Vistas

Cultural Vistas is an international internship and work exchange organization that promotes global collaboration. Students can find international internships and other career-focused opportunities through this nonprofit.

GoAbroad ‒ Internships Abroad

Students looking to take their internship experiences outside the U.S. can search through GoAbroad’s database of international internships. Students can read reviews from past interns to help them with their decision.

Go Overseas ‒ Internships Abroad

Go Overseas is another great site for finding international internship opportunities, and their blog provides tips and can help assuage uncertainties about working overseas.

"How to Prepare Yourself Before the Start of an Internship"

This article provides useful tips for students who are getting ready for their internships and want to make the most of their experience.

Idealist

Idealist is a great resource for students looking for internships in community organizations and the nonprofit sector.

Internships.com

This is a comprehensive internship search resource that allows students to search by location, internship type or company. Students can also take an assessment quiz to find out what types of internships might suit them best.

LinkedIn

The career-focused social media platform is an excellent place to look for internships and connect with recruiters, past interns and prospective employers.

Pathways to Science

Pathways to Science provides education and career resources to students in the STEM fields. Students can search through hundreds of STEM-focused internships and research opportunities with the Pathways to Science database.

UC Davis Internship and Career Center

UC Davis provides a great example of the online and on-campus resources students can access at their own schools. Their Internship and Career Center posts internship opportunities, has information on career and internship fairs and provides many other career- and internship-focused tools, resources and events.

WayUp

WayUp specializes in helping college students and recent grads gain employment, and their internship search platform is one tool that can provide a lot of help. Students answer a few questions and receive personalized internship matches from which to choose.

YouTern

YouTern offers students more than an internship database; students are matched to mentor-based internships with nonprofits, startups and entrepreneurs, giving them enriching, dynamic learning experiences.