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.
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.
Arts and Humanities
Americans for the Arts Internships
Americans for the Arts, the country’s leading nonprofit for the advancement of the arts, notes the mutual benefits of offering high-quality internships to students: students gain the skills needed to become future leaders and stewards of the arts, and the Americans for the Arts organization gets the creative input from young thinkers needed to further the arts. Interns earn an hourly wage, career and academic support, peer-to-peer networking and the chance to collaborate on a variety of projects. The organization offers three internships:
Arts Action Fund
Government and Public Affairs
Meetings and Events
National Endowment for the Humanities Internship Program
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency that aims to promote and further knowledge in the humanities. The organization offers a wide range of internship opportunities to students of all humanities disciplines, including history, linguistics and literature. Internships fall under different offices, such as preservation and access, education programs, research, congressional affairs and communications.
Premier TEFL Homestay Internship in China
Premier TEFL offers a great internship for those interested in education, diplomacy, cultural exchange or working with children. Interns participate in a homestay program in China, where they teach English to young students. Prior to their classroom time, interns will complete a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course, and they will also receive Mandarin lessons throughout their stay. A stipend is provided, along with flight reimbursement, housing and cultural excursions.
U.S. Department of Defense STEM Internships
Hands-on research, engineering, computer science, cybersecurity and physics are a few of the focus areas of the numerous internships offered by the Department of Defense. Specific tasks and requirements vary by internship, but many programs offer mentorships and compensation in addition to the invaluable experience.
IAESTE International Internships
The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experiences aims to promote the intercultural exchange between STEM students and provides them with internship opportunities abroad. Students get the dual benefit of gaining professional and cultural experience. Students within technical fields, including architecture, are eligible to apply. Those who receive the internship also get a stipend, which covers the cost of transportation, housing and food.
Government, Law, Health and Social Services
U.S. Department of Justice Internships
The U.S. Department of Justice offers a range of unpaid internships and volunteer opportunities for undergraduates and law students who are interested in gaining practical experience within specific justice departments like the Office of the Assistant Attorney General, the Policy and Strategy Section or the Voting Rights Section. Students may also apply for the Pathways Program, which provides opportunities for paid internships within federal agencies.
U.S. Department of State Internships
Students interested in foreign policy, diplomacy or other federal careers may be interested in pursuing internships at the U.S. Department of State. Students have the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C., at embassies around the world or in departments throughout the U.S. The Pathways Program is also available to students looking for paid internships at the Department of State.
Health Career Connection Internship
Students pursuing medical and other health care professions can take advantage of Health Career Connection’s Internship program, which offers paid summer positions in a wide range of health care roles and departments. Each intern gets a mentor, networking opportunities and time to work on meaningful projects within their field of academic and professional study.
Business, Finance and Consulting
Bank of America Internships
Bank of America offers a range of internships and other programs for students at various points in their educations. For instance, those who have recently started their undergraduate program and are curious if banking, finance, operations or research is right for them could benefit from Bank of America’s insight programs, which give a more holistic view of various departments and roles. Summer internships are directed toward juniors who will be entering the workforce within a year. Most of Bank of America’s new hires are sourced from their internship programs.
Deloitte is one of the most prominent professional services networks in the world and specializes in audit, tax, advisory and consulting services. Students interested in these fields can apply for Deloitte’s internships and other leadership opportunities. Deloitte offers internships to undergraduates of all class standings, so green and seasoned students alike can gain top-notch professional experience while in school.
Students who intern at KPMG, one of the “Big Four” accounting companies, can get a well-rounded experience, thanks to the company’s Build Your Own Internship Program. Students choose one major area of internship, where they focus on the core skills needed for that practice, and one developmental area, which allows students to explore different career options and gain a holistic understanding of auditory, tax and advisory work. KPMG also has a global internship program, where students spend four weeks abroad working with major clients. KPMG provides its interns with national training and mentoring throughout their internships.
Morgan Stanley Internships
Financial services company and multinational investment bank, Morgan Stanley, offers over one thousand internships to students each year. Their program finder tool makes it easy for students to find meaningful internships across the U.S. and abroad; students just answer a few questions and get a list of suggested internships within divisions that align with their skills and interests.
Communications, Media and More
Marketing and advertising students should keep their eyes on Digitas’ summer internships for current students and full-time tracks for recent graduates. Internships give students hands-on experience in marketing that culminates in a creative capstone projects. Throughout their internships, students will be guided by mentors and invited to participate in staff events, outings and community service projects.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the social media giant would have the resources to build a top-notch internship program. Interns are paired one-on-one with mentors, can participate in tons of activities and receive housing assistance and employment benefits. Facebook offers internships to students of all areas of interest, from sound design to engineering research.
NBCUniversal Campus 2 Career Internship Program
NBCU’s top-ranked internships are highly competitive, but those who get accepted can benefit from hands-on experience in ad sales, accounting and finance, communications and media relations, film production and development, business development and strategy, marketing, human resources, legal and more, depending on their interests. This internship program puts a strong emphasis on career readiness, giving students impactful roles and responsibilities during their tenure.
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.
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.
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.
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