College Internships: The Importance of Real-World Experience

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Col­lege intern­ships are step­ping stones to a great career. They give you valu­able expe­ri­ence that helps you fig­ure out what you want to do after grad­u­a­tion. This is impor­tant for high school stu­dents pick­ing col­leges, par­ents help­ing their kids, and even cur­rent col­lege stu­dents who want to get ahead. Every­one should know how awe­some intern­ships are!

First pub­lished in March 2024. All data was accu­rate at time of publication.

The Importance of College Internships for Your Future Career

Intern­ships are like a bridge between what you learn in the class­room and what work is like in the real world. An intern­ship gives you hands-on expe­ri­ences that encour­ages growth and devel­op­ment. Why are intern­ships so impor­tant? Here are 3 reasons:

  • Real Work Expe­ri­ence: Most employ­ers want to hire peo­ple with expe­ri­ence after col­lege. Intern­ships give you a chance to try out a job and learn real-world skills. A study by a big group called NACE says 91% of employ­ers pre­fer this!
  • Career Boost: Research shows stu­dents who do intern­ships feel more pre­pared for their careers. Intern­ships help you explore dif­fer­ent jobs, improve your skills, and learn about spe­cif­ic indus­tries. This makes you more com­pet­i­tive when you graduate.
  • Make Con­nec­tions: Know­ing peo­ple in your field of study is real­ly impor­tant. Intern­ships let you meet pro­fes­sion­als, men­tors, and even poten­tial employ­ers, which can help you find a job later.
college internships

Finding and Securing Quality College Internships

Sort­ing through all your options for intern­ships means hav­ing to plan well and state­gize. Here’s how to find and secure qual­i­ty internships:

  • Research: Begin by research­ing com­pa­nies, orga­ni­za­tions, and indus­tries that align with your inter­ests and career goals. Explore intern­ship pro­grams offered by rep­utable com­pa­nies known for pro­vid­ing mean­ing­ful learn­ing expe­ri­ences and oppor­tu­ni­ties for growth.
  • Net­work­ing: Lever­age your exist­ing net­work of pro­fes­sors, class­mates, alum­ni, and fam­i­ly friends to uncov­er intern­ship leads. Attend career fairs, indus­try con­fer­ences, and net­work­ing events to expand your con­nec­tions and learn about poten­tial intern­ship opportunities.
  • Online Resources: Take advan­tage of online plat­forms such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and to search for intern­ship list­ings, read reviews from past interns, and con­nect with recruiters. Tai­lor your appli­ca­tion mate­ri­als, includ­ing your resume and cov­er let­ter, to high­light your skills, expe­ri­ences, and qual­i­fi­ca­tions rel­e­vant to the intern­ship position.

In an ide­al world, intern­ships are mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial expe­ri­ences. You gain valu­able expe­ri­ence and the com­pa­ny gets some help with tasks. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are some intern­ships that take advan­tage of interns. Here’s how to spot them and avoid them:

Red Flags of Exploita­tive Internships:

  • Busy­work over Learn­ing: If the intern­ship is most­ly mak­ing copies, fetch­ing cof­fee, or doing unre­lat­ed tasks, it’s not giv­ing you valu­able experience.
  • No Train­ing or Guid­ance: You should be giv­en prop­er train­ing and have a super­vi­sor who can answer your ques­tions and guide you.
  • Unpaid and Long Hours: While some unpaid intern­ships are okay, if it’s unpaid and expects long hours, it’s like­ly tak­ing advantage.
  • No Clear Learn­ing Objec­tives: There should be clear goals for what you’ll learn and achieve dur­ing the internship.
  • Pres­sure to Do Unpaid Work After Hours: Intern­ships should­n’t require unpaid overtime.

How to Avoid Exploita­tive Internships:

  • Do Your Research: Look for com­pa­nies known for offer­ing qual­i­ty intern­ships. Read reviews from past interns online.
  • Ask Ques­tions: Dur­ing the inter­view, ask about the day-to-day tasks, learn­ing objec­tives, and compensation.
  • Know Your Rights: In some regions, there are laws about min­i­mum wage for intern­ships. Be aware of your rights.
  • Trust Your Gut: If some­thing feels off about the intern­ship, it prob­a­bly is. Don’t be afraid to walk away.

Here are some resources that can help you find good internships:

By being informed and ask­ing the right ques­tions, you can increase your chances of find­ing a pos­i­tive and reward­ing intern­ship experience.

Do Interns Get Paid?

Paid or UnpaidPer­cent­age
Some Paid, Some Unpaid15%
No Intern­ship28%
Source: NACE

Turning College Internships into Job Opportunities

An intern­ship can be a spring­board to your future career, but it’s on you to make the most of the expe­ri­ence. How can you turn your intern­ship into a real job?

  • Raise Your Hand (Fig­u­ra­tive­ly): Show your eager­ness to learn and take on new chal­lenges. Vol­un­teer for projects that might be a lit­tle tough – it shows you’re ambi­tious! Don’t be afraid to ask ques­tions and active­ly seek feed­back from your super­vi­sors and men­tors. They’re there to help you grow.
  • Make Friends, Not Just Copies: Intern­ships aren’t just about mak­ing cof­fee (hope­ful­ly!). Take time to get to know your cowork­ers. Chat with them, ask for infor­ma­tion­al inter­views (basi­cal­ly a mini-meet­ing to learn about their jobs!), and show gen­uine inter­est in their work. Build­ing strong con­nec­tions can open doors to future oppor­tu­ni­ties with­in the com­pa­ny, or even refer­rals to oth­er jobs down the line.

Learn from Every Experience:

  • Ask for Feed­back: Don’t be shy about ask­ing your super­vi­sor how you’re doing! Feed­back helps you iden­ti­fy areas you can improve and track your progress. Reflect on your expe­ri­ences – what did you do well? What could you have done dif­fer­ent­ly? This self-reflec­tion will help you set goals for your future career path.
  • Ace Your Exit Inter­view: Most com­pa­nies will have an “exit inter­view” at the end of your intern­ship. This is your chance to shine! Talk about your accom­plish­ments, the chal­lenges you faced, and what you learned. This shows the com­pa­ny you were engaged and leaves a last­ing pos­i­tive impression.

Remem­ber, an intern­ship is a two-way street. The com­pa­ny ben­e­fits from your work, but you should also be get­ting valu­able real-world expe­ri­ence and build­ing rela­tion­ships that can launch your career. Be proac­tive, be curi­ous, and be your­self – and that intern­ship could just be the spring­board to your dream job!

Internship Examples and Day-in-the-Life

Ever won­dered what interns actu­al­ly do? Let’s jump into some cool intern­ship roles and see what a typ­i­cal day might look like:


  • Where: Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Agency
  • What you might do: Imag­ine dig­ging into what peo­ple like (mar­ket research!), ana­lyz­ing data to under­stand trends, help­ing with social media (think cool posts and fun ideas!), and even con­tribut­ing to mar­ket­ing cam­paigns (think catchy slo­gans or eye-catch­ing ads!).
  • A Day in the Life: Brain­storm­ing awe­some ideas for a new cam­paign with your team, maybe attend­ing meet­ings with clients to under­stand their needs, and craft­ing engag­ing con­tent for social media to cap­ture every­one’s attention.


  • Where: Tech­nol­o­gy Company
  • What you might do: Work­ing along­side a team of engi­neers to design and build amaz­ing new prod­ucts! You could also test pro­to­types (like ear­ly ver­sions of gad­gets) and trou­bleshoot any prob­lems that pop up.
  • A Day in the Life: Cod­ing or fix­ing com­put­er pro­grams (don’t wor­ry, they’ll teach you!), attend­ing meet­ings to dis­cuss designs, and keep­ing track of how the project is going by doc­u­ment­ing everything.


  • Where: News Organization
  • What you might do: Uncov­er­ing sto­ries! You could be research­ing cool top­ics, inter­view­ing inter­est­ing peo­ple (think experts or peo­ple with first­hand expe­ri­ences!), writ­ing arti­cles to share the news, and mak­ing sure every­thing is clear and accurate.
  • A Day in the Life: Start­ing your day by check­ing the lat­est news, attend­ing meet­ings to dis­cuss sto­ry ideas, and maybe even inter­view­ing some­one for an upcom­ing arti­cle – you might be sur­prised by who you get to talk to!


  • Where: Finan­cial Ser­vices Firm
  • What you might do: Help­ing out with ana­lyz­ing finances (like fig­ur­ing out bud­gets and future plans), cre­at­ing bud­gets, and even par­tic­i­pat­ing in meet­ings with clients and impor­tant peo­ple in the com­pa­ny. Your tasks could involve look­ing at finan­cial data close­ly, prepar­ing reports to share infor­ma­tion, and assist­ing with research on investments.
  • A Day in the Life: Ana­lyz­ing finan­cial data (like num­bers and trends), putting togeth­er reports to present the infor­ma­tion clear­ly, and maybe even help­ing research dif­fer­ent invest­ment options.

No mat­ter which intern­ship you choose, you’ll get to learn by doing, devel­op new skills, and con­tribute to a team! Embrace the chal­lenges, grab the oppor­tu­ni­ties that come your way, and let your intern­ship be the launch­pad for a suc­cess­ful and excit­ing career.

Intern­ships aren’t just for resumes, they can change your career path. Interns get to try out real jobs, learn new skills, meet impor­tant peo­ple, and get bet­ter chances of land­ing great jobs later.


How impor­tant are intern­ships in col­lege?

Are intern­ships impor­tant? Absolute­ly! They’re a fan­tas­tic way to gain expe­ri­ence, devel­op skills, build your net­work, and get a head start on your future career. Here’s why intern­ships are super impor­tant:
Expe­ri­ence Edge: Employ­ers love to see expe­ri­ence on resumes. Intern­ships show you’re proac­tive and give you a taste of dif­fer­ent career paths, help­ing you fig­ure out what you real­ly like (or don’t like!).
Skill Up!: Intern­ships let you devel­op prac­ti­cal skills you can’t learn just in books. You’ll learn to work on a team, solve prob­lems, and maybe even pick up some new tech­ni­cal skills.
Con­fi­dence Boost­er: Step­ping out­side your com­fort zone and doing well in an intern­ship can be a major con­fi­dence boost. You’ll learn to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tive­ly, think crit­i­cal­ly, and impress peo­ple with your abil­i­ties.
Net­work­ing Champs: Intern­ships con­nect you with pro­fes­sion­als in your field. These con­nec­tions can be men­tors, future col­leagues, or even peo­ple who can rec­om­mend you for jobs after grad­u­a­tion.
Test Dri­ve Your Dreams: Ever won­dered what it’s real­ly like to be a doc­tor, lawyer, or mar­ket­ing whiz? Intern­ships let you try out dif­fer­ent careers before you com­mit to a whole degree path.
They’re like real-world train­ing grounds that can give you a huge boost in col­lege and beyond. Don’t miss out on this chance to explore, learn, and grow!

Do intern­ships actu­al­ly mat­ter?

What’s the dif­fer­ence if you take an intern­ship ver­sus just focus­ing on your course­work? A whole lot! Let’s look at what you gain and lose with either approach.
Col­lege Path: Intern­ship vs. Course­work Focus
Intern­ship Path:
Focus: Gain­ing real-world expe­ri­ence in a cho­sen field.
Activ­i­ties: Shad­ow­ing pro­fes­sion­als, assist­ing with projects, attend­ing meet­ings, learn­ing indus­try-spe­cif­ic skills.
Ben­e­fits: Devel­ops prac­ti­cal skills (com­mu­ni­ca­tion, prob­lem-solv­ing, team­work), builds pro­fes­sion­al net­work, pro­vides career clar­i­ty.
Poten­tial Chal­lenges: May require bal­anc­ing course­work with intern­ship demands, find­ing rel­e­vant intern­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties.
Course­work Focus:
Focus: Deep­en­ing the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge through aca­d­e­m­ic study.
Activ­i­ties: Attend­ing lec­tures, com­plet­ing assign­ments, con­duct­ing research, par­tic­i­pat­ing in class dis­cus­sions.
Ben­e­fits: Builds strong aca­d­e­m­ic foun­da­tion, hones research and ana­lyt­i­cal skills, strength­ens crit­i­cal think­ing.
Poten­tial Chal­lenges: Lim­it­ed expo­sure to real-world appli­ca­tions of knowl­edge, poten­tial dis­con­nect between the­o­ry and prac­tice.
Some intern­ships may require a strong aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground.
Some col­leges offer intern­ship cred­it for qual­i­fied intern­ship expe­ri­ences.
Both intern­ships and course­work con­tribute to a well-round­ed edu­ca­tion.
Ulti­mate­ly, the best path depends on indi­vid­ual goals and learn­ing styles. Some stu­dents thrive in prac­ti­cal envi­ron­ments, while oth­ers excel in the­o­ret­i­cal study. The ide­al sce­nario might be a com­bi­na­tion of both approach­es, allow­ing for both real-world expe­ri­ence and aca­d­e­m­ic grounding.

Are intern­ships good for get­ting into col­lege?

Absolute­ly! While intern­ships aren’t manda­to­ry for col­lege admis­sions, they can def­i­nite­ly be a strong plus on your appli­ca­tion. Here’s how intern­ships can ben­e­fit your col­lege appli­ca­tions:
Stand Out From the Crowd: Col­leges receive tons of appli­ca­tions. Intern­ships show ini­tia­tive, curios­i­ty, and a pas­sion for explor­ing poten­tial career paths. This can help you stand out from oth­er appli­cants with sim­i­lar grades and test scores.
Demon­strate Your Inter­ests: Intern­ships allow you to delve deep­er into a spe­cif­ic field. This can show­case your gen­uine inter­est in a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject area, which aligns well with your col­lege major choic­es.
Devel­op Valu­able Skills: Intern­ships aren’t just about mak­ing copies (hope­ful­ly!). They give you a chance to devel­op prac­ti­cal skills like com­mu­ni­ca­tion, team­work, prob­lem-solv­ing, and time man­age­ment. These skills are val­ued by col­leges and future employ­ers alike.
High­light Your Achieve­ments: Did you con­tribute to a project? Did you learn a new soft­ware pro­gram? High­light­ing your achieve­ments dur­ing your intern­ship show­cas­es your ini­tia­tive and abil­i­ty to learn.
Net­work and Get Rec­om­men­da­tions: Intern­ships can con­nect you with pro­fes­sion­als in your field. These con­nec­tions could poten­tial­ly write you let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion for col­lege appli­ca­tions, adding anoth­er lay­er of cred­i­bil­i­ty to your pro­file.
Here are some addi­tion­al points to con­sid­er:
Focus on Qual­i­ty Over Quan­ti­ty: One high-qual­i­ty, rel­e­vant intern­ship is more impres­sive than sev­er­al short, unre­lat­ed ones.
Bal­ance is Key: Don’t let intern­ships over­whelm your stud­ies. Pri­or­i­tize your aca­d­e­mics and ensure a good bal­ance between school­work and intern­ship com­mit­ments.
Research and Find the Right Fit: Look for intern­ships that align with your inter­ests and poten­tial col­lege majors. Research com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions that offer qual­i­ty intern­ship expe­ri­ences for high school stu­dents.
Over­all, intern­ships can be a fan­tas­tic way to gain valu­able expe­ri­ence, devel­op skills, and boost your col­lege appli­ca­tions. How­ev­er, they should com­ple­ment your aca­d­e­m­ic jour­ney, not replace it. Talk to your school coun­selor or career advi­sor for guid­ance on find­ing intern­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties that are a good fit for you.

Do you real­ly need intern­ships?

Intern­ships are like train­ing wheels for your future career, but they’re not absolute­ly nec­es­sary for col­lege admis­sions. Here’s the hon­est scoop:
Not Manda­to­ry, But Mighty Help­ful: Col­leges don’t require intern­ships, but a strong intern­ship expe­ri­ence can def­i­nite­ly make your appli­ca­tion shine. It shows ini­tia­tive, a hunger for learn­ing, and a clear direc­tion in your inter­ests.
Stand­ing Out From the Pack: Think of your appli­ca­tion like a crowd. Intern­ships help you stand out! With sim­i­lar grades and test scores, col­leges love to see stu­dents who take the extra step to explore fields they’re pas­sion­ate about.
Build­ing Your Skillset: Intern­ships aren’t just about fetch­ing cof­fee (hope­ful­ly!). They let you devel­op prac­ti­cal skills that text­books can’t teach, like team­work, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and prob­lem-solv­ing on the fly. These skills are gold for col­lege appli­ca­tions and future employ­ers alike.
So Much to Talk About!: Ever strug­gle with “tell me about your­self” in inter­views? Intern­ships give you expe­ri­ences to draw on! You can show­case your achieve­ments, the chal­lenges you tack­led, and the new skills you learned.
It’s All About Bal­ance: While intern­ships are awe­some, don’t let them become over­whelm­ing. Main­tain a healthy bal­ance with your aca­d­e­mics. Col­leges val­ue well-round­ed stu­dents, so pri­or­i­tize your stud­ies along­side your intern­ship jour­ney.
Intern­ships are a fan­tas­tic way to gain expe­ri­ence, devel­op skills, and make your col­lege appli­ca­tion stand out. But remem­ber, they’re not manda­to­ry. Focus on excelling in your class­es, and if the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a rel­e­vant intern­ship aris­es, go for it! Talk to your school coun­selor about intern­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties – they can be a great resource for find­ing the right fit for you.

Do intern­ships guar­an­tee a job?

Intern­ships are an invest­ment in your future, not a guar­an­tee of a spe­cif­ic job. But by using your intern­ship expe­ri­ence effec­tive­ly, you’ll be much bet­ter equipped to nav­i­gate the job mar­ket and land that dream oppor­tu­ni­ty!
Here are some bonus tips:
Go the extra mile dur­ing your intern­ship. Show your ini­tia­tive and will­ing­ness to learn.
Net­work! Build rela­tion­ships with col­leagues and super­vi­sors. Let them know you’re inter­est­ed in future oppor­tu­ni­ties.
Learn from your intern­ship expe­ri­ence. What skills did you devel­op? What did you enjoy or dis­like?
Use your intern­ship expe­ri­ence to tai­lor your resume and cov­er let­ter for future job appli­ca­tions.
By tak­ing these steps, you’ll max­i­mize the ben­e­fits of your intern­ship and set your­self up for suc­cess in the job market.