Internships are increasingly becoming part of college curriculums. Some programs actually require a certain number of hours of fieldwork through internships. Others strongly encourage students to pick up intern work. Either way, interning is a great way to get valuable work experience in your field. Holding a waitressing job looks good on a resume, but having real work experience makes you competitive in the job market.
There are some controversial aspects of this student work system. Internships are often unpaid. Companies eager for the free labor will often say that you get paid in experience, and frame it as a learning opportunity. The fact of the matter is that not all students can afford to work for free. Internships are normally very time consuming, and it’s difficult to balance a paid job with an unpaid internship. (I’ve done it before, but it barely covered my daily expenses). Because a lot of student can and do take unpaid internships, the students who can’t afford it are kind of left out to dry. Paid internships do exist, but they are becoming meaning more and more competitive to get. Sadly, it’s much easier to get a paid internship if you’ve already had one or two unpaid internships.
Despite their fault, internships really do put you ahead of the class before you even graduate. It’s a wonderful way to use the skills you’re learning in class while getting a feel the working world.
There’s another important distinction between types of internships (other than paid verses unpaid). Some internships are actually for college credit. That means you leave the internship with credit towards your degree. For programs that require internships to graduate, this is the type of internship you need to find.
Unfortunately, getting credit for an internship means that you are actually paying the amount you would pay for classes in order to intern. If your program doesn’t require credits through internships, don’t get credits through internships. It’s much nicer to get the experience for free than to pay for it. A lot of internship postings will say that you can get college credit for the work. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to get credit for it. I had an internship once where every other intern was there to get college credit, and I wasn’t getting credit for it. Just ask the person or organization providing the internship. It’s very unlikely that the internship requires you to get the college credit.
Finding an internship that works for you can be stressful. Be prepared to give a lot of time to any internship. Not only will your dedication make your boss like you more, you will end up learning a lot more from the experience too. Take full advantage of the opportunities you find; you will thank yourself for it later.