How To Get an Internship in College: A Guide With Tips

Updated July 17, 2023

College is the ideal time to gain the knowledge and experience to prepare you for a new career. Completing an internship can be an important part of your education and career preparation, and some programs require all students to finish one. Learning about the internship process may help you secure one successfully and start your professional career.

In this article, we discuss the benefits of completing internships, how to get an internship in college and tips for a successful internship.

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Benefits of completing an internship

While not all schools, industries or positions require internships, completing one can benefit you. They're an excellent way to gain practical work experience for your resume, which may distinguish you from other candidates when you enter the job market. Some of the other advantages of completing an internship during college include that they often allow you to:

Become familiar with working in a professional setting

Even if you have had jobs in the past, they were likely quite different from the day-to-day operations of your chosen professional career. An internship is a great way to gain exposure to a professional setting and learn how to interact with clients and colleagues.

Apply the skills and knowledge you learn in college

Internships often allow you to utilize the strategies and skills you learned in your college courses. Applying your knowledge in real-life situations can help you further develop your expertise and reinforce what you learned.

Learn your likes and dislikes

An internship allows you to discover if you enjoy certain jobs without the long-term commitment of accepting employment. Using these experiences, you can focus on your career goals and gain valuable professional direction.

Gain on-the-job training

Some job functions require more than the theoretical knowledge you learn in school. Internships provide you with experiences you might face in your career and training in specific procedures, systems or protocols that you can only learn on the job.

Find employment after graduation

Internships are a way to gain employment after graduation because they demonstrate to employers that you have some experience in the field. Additionally, many companies offer employment opportunities to their interns. Employers usually actively assess their interns to determine whether they would make a good permanent addition to the team.

Read more: 10 Tips To Turn Your Internship Into a Full-Time Job

Develop your confidence

Internships may improve your confidence as you begin applying for jobs because they provide practical experience and allow you to work directly with people in your industry. Possessing confidence in your abilities is important as you prepare your resume and cover letter and begin interviewing for positions.

Discover your strengths and weaknesses

Evaluating your strengths and weaknesses can be difficult outside of an applicable professional setting. As an intern, you can look for aspects of your skill set that you need to improve, discover what sets you apart from other candidates and learn which attributes make you an asset.

Read more: 11 Reasons Why Doing Internships Can Benefit Your Career

Make professional connections

Internships allow you to build relationships with coworkers, managers and others in the industry. During your internship program, you can get to know your coworkers and seek opportunities to network and connect with others in your field.

How to get an internship in college

Follow these steps to help you get an internship in college:

1. Evaluate your career goals

Before beginning your search for an internship, assess your professional goals to determine what kind of positions and companies would provide you with the most relevant experience. Think about the industries you might want to work in and consider what you hope to learn from the experience. You can then use this information to focus your search and narrow the results.

2. Create space in your class schedule

Most organizations offer summer internships and internship programs during the school year. Plan for when you want to complete your internship and be mindful of accommodating your working hours when determining your course load for that semester. It's typically a good idea to create a class schedule that gives you two or three days a week when you're free.

Read more: How To Find a Summer Internship

3. Prepare your application materials

Spend some time developing a resume and cover letter that highlight your experience, education and skills. Depending on the field you're entering, creating an online portfolio that showcases your work might be helpful. Additionally, create a professional social media profile, and evaluate your personal accounts so that you can delete any inappropriate images or captions. Be sure your application materials highlight your relevant qualifications and present a professional, consistent personal brand.

Read more: How To Write an Internship Resume That Will Get You Hired

4. Explore internship opportunities

You can usually find internships using many methods. For example, many students search for job listings in their area and industry, but you can also speak with professors, peers, coworkers, family members, friends and graduates about potential opportunities that meet your interests. Additionally, if you know of a company or companies you want to intern with, you can contact them directly and express your interest.

During your search, you may find different types of internships, such as:

  • Paid internships: Paid internships allow you to earn money while gaining experience, and they're sometimes only available as full-time positions, which may be challenging if you hope to complete your internship while attending classes. These internships may be competitive to secure, but they may also be impressive to potential employers.

  • Unpaid internships: Unpaid internships don't provide financial compensation for the experience you gain, but most give students college credit, which may satisfy degree program requirements for graduation. Some of these internships may provide less supervision or training than paid internships, but they often give you more flexibility in your schedule and valuable experience that may be useful for securing another internship or beginning your career.

  • Virtual internships: Virtual internships provide the most flexibility because they typically allow you to work from anywhere and on any schedule, giving you more opportunities that you may not otherwise access based on location or timing. These internships may be more difficult to use for networking or to prepare to work in an office, but they may be effective in preparing you for a remote work environment.

  • Part-time internships: Part-time internships usually offer a more flexible schedule, making them a good option if you're also taking classes or working a part-time job. These may be less competitive to get or provide less experience than other opportunities, but completing one still helps you gain valuable career experience.

  • Full-time internships: Full-time internships create the most comprehensive internship experience with more opportunities for practical learning and professional development. They may be competitive to secure and challenging to complete if you need a more flexible schedule, but they may be beneficial for transitioning from an internship to full-time employment.

Read more: Paid vs. Unpaid Internship: Key Differences Between Them

5. Get help from career services

Most colleges have a career services center where you can get guidance about your resume and even find internship opportunities. Utilizing this resource can help you locate a great internship program, and people working at the career services center may have important connections that may separate you from other candidates.

6. Attend career fairs

Career fairs give you the chance to meet hiring managers in person, so you can make a connection and improve the chances of your application standing out. Some organizations also bring interns to career fairs on college campuses, allowing you to speak with them directly about their experiences and help you decide if it's a good internship for you.

7. Evaluate each internship

Review carefully each of the internships you found during your search, and think about which may be a good option for you to pursue. Consider different aspects of the internship, such as the projects you may complete, the mentorship you may receive and the growth and development opportunities it may offer. Be sure to also research each of the companies and their values during your assessment. This can help you select which internships you apply for and which may best align with your career goals.

Read more: How To Get an Internship Suited to Your Career Interests

8. Practice interviewing

Internships typically require completing an interview process before you receive an offer to join the internship program. These interviews allow employers to compare top candidates' abilities and personalities, so prepare beforehand. Some great ways to do this are by researching the company, analyzing the job description and rehearsing possible answers to commonly asked questions.

Read more: 10 Tips To Help You Excel in an Internship Interview

9. Follow up with the internship coordinator

Sending an email or note to the interviewer thanking them for their time and consideration demonstrates that you're thoughtful, organized and motivated. Send your thank-you note within 24 hours of your meeting, mention something specific from the interview and end with a brief call to action. For example, you could say, "Please reach out if you need any more information from me."

Read more: How To Write a Thank You Letter for an Internship Interview (With Examples)

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Internship tips

Here are some internship tips to help you make a great impression and get the most out of your internship experience:

  • Clarify the expectations for your role. Ensuring you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities allows you to meet and exceed expectations. It's usually best to get an outline of your role in writing.

  • Ask thoughtful questions. As you transition into your internship position, ask relevant questions so that you can learn as much as you can about the job as quickly as possible. Asking questions can also help reduce any feelings of anxiety about your internship and give you clarity about tasks.

  • Get feedback about your performance. Scheduling regular meetings with your supervisor helps ensure that expectations are being met for both parties. This also demonstrates your commitment to the experience and allows you to ask about development opportunities.

  • Behave professionally. Ways to make a good impression and show professionalism include showing up on time, dressing appropriately and speaking professionally to every team member.

  • Ask for a letter of recommendation. Your internship supervisor is a great professional contact who can provide a reference for future opportunities. It's also a good idea to ask for their contact information to share in future applications to use as a reference.

  • Create a schedule. Balancing internship, school and personal responsibilities can feel challenging, but developing a schedule can help. This allows you to prioritize your tasks and determine what to complete and when, and it highlights when it may be a good idea to ask for support from coworkers, family, friends or professors.

  • Ask for help. Internships are an excellent learning opportunity, and you're likely to experience new tasks to complete or you may not receive much guidance on what to do. Ask your manager or coworkers for help, and, if necessary, inquire if any additional training or mentorship opportunities are available.

  • Be proactive. Showing initiative during your internship may help you to impress your manager and the organization's staff and to learn as much as possible during the experience. Ways to be proactive include completing additional projects, asking for more work to do, seeking new learning opportunities or exceeding what your responsibilities require.

  • Keep a positive attitude. One important skill to learn during your internship is how to work well on a team. Being a friendly person with a positive attitude may help you work well with others and make valuable connections at the company.

  • Maintain your connections. Internships allow you to network with many people in the industry, so ensure you stay in contact with these connections. Aside from preparing thank-you notes for your managers and coworkers, ask for their contact information to share your future career plans or, if necessary, ask for their help.

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