Internships have been part of the higher education landscape for many decades. Students hoping to enter professions such as teaching and health, often require at least one hands-on field experience prior to earning their degree.
However, internships are on the rise in a number of other disciplines as well, including traditional liberal arts fields. As internships spread to a wider cross section of disciplines, they are drawing more attention campus-wide. Discover the benefits and hurdles of successful internship programs.
We recently polled thousands of college students asking, “Are you or do you plan to participate in an internship?” The majority of students, 71%, said yes. And only 40% said an internship is a required element of their program or degree.
While 40% are required to gain internship experience, another 31% of college students choose to participate for other reasons.
While an education is an invaluable asset for students’ futures, many full-time positions expect recent graduates to also have some solid experience under their belts before they’ll hire them on.
Importance of structure
According to authors, H. Sweitzer and Mary King in their book, The Successful Internship, 4th Edition:
An internship is a nearly boundless opportunity for learning. Like any such opportunity, its success depends on the program staff to structure and guide the learning and of students’ ability and willingness to engage the material and the experience.
Perhaps because of the sheer number of hours spent at the internship, the intensity of the work, the prospect of gaining (or not) entry into a desired field of work, or all of these factors, the effective dimension of the internship is more salient for students than in traditional academic experiences; faculty and students ignore it that their peril. (xxi)
If your department requires students to participate in internship programs, speak up and ensure that the completion requirements are up to standard.
Building job skills
Students who are not required to complete an internship may feel as though it is one more task. If your students need a little encouragement, explain to them that participating in internships early on is likely to make their job hunt easier after graduation.
By participating in an internship program, students will not only learn technical or career-specific skills, but they’ll also learn many transferable or soft skills such as verbal and written communication and critical thinking skills. According to author Christine Harrington in her book, Student Success in College: Doing What Works!, 2nd Edition:
In a study conducted by Barnett (2012), students who took advantage of internship opportunities learned the importance of communication, autonomy, and teamwork, leaving their internship with more realistic expectations about what it takes to be successful in the workplace.
Students who participate in internships are also better prepared for the job search process. For starters, internships can provide you with valuable work experience that can strengthen your résumé. Students who participate in internships have better interviewing skills and get more job offers (Weible, 2009). (240)
The networking and communication skills gained in an internship experience may serve as the building blocks to a student’s success.
Students can often find relevant internship listings on the traditional job posting sites, such as LinkedIn, Indeed.com, and Craigslist. But another great place to recommend your students start with is companies they know they’d love to work for. Encourage them to head straight to their website or call and see if they have internships available in their area. It never hurts to try!
For more hints on helping your students find the perfect internship for their career goals, visit our post, “Tips for Students: How to Begin Searching for the Perfect Internship.”
Harrington, Christine. 2016. Instructor’s Manual for Student Success in College: Doing What Works!, 2nd ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Sweitzer, H; Mary King. 2014. The Successful Internship, Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.