By Stephanie Ostroff, junior, journalism, University of Maryland
Jennifer Bray slept footsteps from the sand in Venice Beach, Calif. during a week of summer in 2008. The Gettysburg College senior spent her days shadowing a college alum working at a Los Angeles advertising firm and strolled the Venice Beach Boardwalk and Santa Monica Pier in her downtime. Best of all, Gettysburg footed the bill for Bray’s weeklong West Coast externship—accommodations, round-trip airfare, food and all.
While your university may not pick up the tab for an externship, the experience you can gain through this kind of program is invaluable.
An externship—as opposed to an internship—usually runs from a day to a week and allows college students to shadow someone with a job they’re curious about to get some perspective on the career. University career centers are great resources for finding externships, but a simple Google search can generate results, too.
“I try and encourage students, you don’t need to come through me, you can arrange it on your own,” said Megan McKnight, a Career Center advisor at the University of Maryland. “The only reason we have the externship program in place is for students who don’t have the initiative or knowledge to seek it out on their own.”
The University of Maryland’s externship program lasts one to two days during winter break, and students can apply online through the career center website. Students select potential job sites from a list of participating companies, and after applications are in, resumes are sent to those companies so they can sift through them and choose externs.
Bray’s college had a similar online application process, and after selecting all the externships she could find related to writing, publishing and advertising, she learned she’d be flying to L.A. to spend a week in the life of an employee at the marketing agency Zamboo.
During that week she got hands-on experience researching for a healthcare campaign, finding and calling illustrators, taking part in conference calls with clients and even sitting in on a meeting with the Los Angeles Times online to discuss ad space.
“The externship was an amazing experience because not only did I get to travel to a place I had never been before, but I also got a behind-the-scenes look at a marketing agency,” Bray said.
Jessica Frey also sings the praises of externships. As a sophomore at Lafayette College, she’s already completed one externship with an internal medical doctor, and this winter break she’s doing another one, this time with a female surgeon.
“The things that you can learn in that short period of time are unbelievable,” Frey said. “As a student that wants to be a doctor, it’s also very helpful in getting a sampling of the medical field so that I can narrow down what medical specialty I might pursue in the future.”
If your school is like the University of Maryland, it won’t pay for any externship-related expenses, and you might not find yourself living in an international hostel by the Pacific Ocean. But even if it’s just a one-day peek at the work environment at a local company, it’s still worth your time.
“Really, it’s a great way to gain experience and then build your professional network,” McKnight said. “I really tell [students] it’s a way for them to make contacts and then keep up those relationships.”
Another benefit? You won’t end up wasting three months of your life fetching coffee and trudging through 40-hour weeks at a job you can’t stand.
“The great thing about externships—instead of internships—is that they are only a few days to a week long, so you just get a glimpse into the career field,” Bray said. “Meaning, if you don’t like it, it’s not something you are stuck in for the summer!”