For most people, college is the first time you can stand out independently from your parents and try something new on your own. For me, this freedom meant a few things: moving across the country from my family, making new friends that feel like home and finding an internship. While the first two can be a difficult adjustment, landing an internship in college is all about putting yourself out there and not giving up. Since starting college two years ago, I have had seven internships working in marketing, fashion, radio, politics and journalism.
While they have all been very different, here are ten things I have learned along the way.
1. If you are looking for an internship, let your professors know
This may sound straightforward, but the best thing to do to land an internship in college is to advertise yourself and reach out to the connections you already have. Let your favorite professor know you are interested in an internship in their field. Not only will this help you score points with them as they will understand you take the course material seriously, but it also shows initiative. By bringing up your interest in finding an internship, they may be able to connect you with someone they know who is hiring in your field.
2. Take Your Job Seriously and Ask Questions
If you land an internship and start working on projects with an open mind, you may be surprised how much you will learn. Most bosses give their interns small assignments to start. Stepping up and taking on the work at the beginning of your internship is a great way to make an amazing first impression. Asking questions allows your boss to get to know you and how your skillset can best benefit the company. By bringing up your own questions and suggestions about the position early on, you can dictate part of the job to fit your needs.
3. Show Up on Time and Stay Organized
Most paid internships, whether remote or in an office, expect interns to work certain hours each week. For unpaid internships, you may be able to set your own hours or even negotiate other benefits like working from home. Regardless, it is important to be punctual to prove you value the internship experience. Meeting deadlines for projects shows your superiors you feel excited and committed to getting the work done on time.
4. Plan Your Week Ahead
College is all about trying new things and not limiting yourself to focus on any one aspect. From classes to going out with friends to internships, it can be difficult to know how to organize your days when you have so much you want to do both academically and socially. The best way to accomplish everything is to plan ahead and write it all down. At the beginning of each week, write down everything you want to or need to do in a planner, notebook or journal and set aside time every day to check one thing off the list. From completing a project for your internship to writing your sociology paper or going to your friend’s birthday party, when you have all of your commitments written down on paper, you are much more likely to accomplish them.
5. Do Not Overcommit Yourself
Although having an internship in college is an amazing way to make strong connections in your future career field and gain work experience, it can be very time-consuming. Depending on the internship, you may want to consider taking a lighter course load during the semester that you are interning if the hours feel too demanding. With that being said, it is also crucial to communicate to your boss that you are a full-time student and have other commitments besides the internship to consider. This sets the expectation that you can work a few days a week without feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with your course work and classes.
6. If the Internship is Unpaid, Ask if Another Compensation is Available
While not ideal in most cases, unpaid internships sometimes provide the best opportunity to get your foot in the door. One thing to consider when taking an unpaid internship is if your employer can offer you any added benefits. For example, if you are expected to come into the office three days a week for your internship, ask if your transportation can be covered in the case that public transit is not an option. This is very common among unpaid internships but usually only offered if you are brave enough to ask. Additionally, depending on the company, some unpaid positions will provide interns with free meals. Spending money on small things like Uber rides and sandwiches can add up quickly if you’re interning multiple days a week. Don’t be shy to ask your boss if there is anything they can contribute.
7. Speak Up and Make Your Voice Heard
The best way to stand out at your internship is to be outspoken and dedicated to your work. Although it may be intimidating at first, join in at staff meetings and contribute your thoughts on how to improve the company and day to day intern operations. Do not be afraid to speak your mind about your work and voice your concerns if you feel uninvolved. Employers want to teach their interns but may not know the best projects to include you in. If you see a project you feel drawn towards and want to get involved, run it by your boss and take initiative to do it yourself.
8. Talk to Your School’s Alumni
The easiest way to find an internship or network successfully is to connect with your peers who have graduated and experienced the job market. Most schools frequently host alumni mixers giving their students the opportunity to connect with alumni who work at companies nearby. To show interest, research the company you hope to work at on LinkedIn to see if any alumni from your school currently work there. Messaging them to meet for coffee is an easy way to connect with less pressure than an interview and a great way to show your interest in the company.
9. Do Not Rush It
At the end of the day, college internships exist to give you the opportunity to experience the working world a few days a week. They can be demanding, exciting and high stress, but offer a unique view of a company you would otherwise never get. Although you may love being an intern, it is important to maximize your time in college since the four years fly by so fast. After all, you will have the rest of your life to work in an office environment so do not rush the college years by stressing about internships. This is the time to have fun and make as many new friends as you can while experiencing life with full independence; take advantage of it!
10. End Things on a Good Note
Even if you finished an internship that was not your favorite, try to end things with your coworkers and boss on a high point. How you leave the company matters greatly because it is the last thing your superiors will remember about you. show you care about the internship opportunity and the people that hired you in the first place by going out of your way to say thank you for the opportunity and following up with them after you finished working there. Additionally, in the future when you try to land another internship or job opportunity, having good relationships with your previous employers means they can give you a stellar recommendation.