The Value of Internships

For every college student, the word “internship” is constantly buzzing around them. The term is used by professors, academic advisors, parents and even some friends. Even though internships are always being mentioned and recommended, most college students have the mentality that eventually checking off one summer internship during your final year to get course credit is enough.

Unfortunately, that one 12-week glimpse of professional experience isn’t enough. Just ask 40 percent of the unemployed individuals who are recently graduated Millennials. Simply doing one internship that earns you course credit and maybe gives you some real world experience isn’t your one way ticket to getting a job upon graduation.

I could sit here all day and spit out facts about unemployment rates and the general attitudes professionals have towards Millennials in the hopes that facts alone would be enough to motivate you. However, the real disservice you are doing when you only get that one internship is to yourself.

Why You Need Internships

The professional world can be quite intimidating, especially when that moment of graduation arrives and you realize you’ve had little to no experience. A feeling of “oh crap” tends to come over you as you now have to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Some individuals are blessed with knowing what they want to pursue as a career the second they set foot into a college classroom. They have their course path all picked out, they know what career they want to pursue and they may even have the city they want to live in all picked out as well. However, most people have to go through the process of trial and error to figure out what they really want to do.

For instance, some students start out as engineering majors and then make their way into marketing. While others may start off as business majors and then change to something completely different such as equine science. No one truly knows what they want to do until they have experienced it first hand, and sitting in a classroom or reading a job description from a book is not where you will get that defining moment.

Internships are where you find out what you like, what you dislike, what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are. You learn what you can handle, what you cannot and whether you enjoy fast paced environments or an atmosphere that is more laid back. Just because you love science doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy a job where you sit in a fluorescent lab all day doing research, so getting the real-life experience is what is truly key.

Why One Isn’t Enough

So let’s say you partake in an internship. You’re majoring in marketing and you land a marketing internship for a corporate healthcare company. You find that the experience was alright, however the work didn’t excite you.

Eventually, after your internship, you are back to attending classes, working on your degree, and possibly dreading the thought of joining the real world because your experience was sub-par. The key to this is simple: get back out there and do another internship!

Obviously you still want to keep it in the realm of marketing, but instead of working in a corporate position, maybe try working for an advertising agency to see what a faster paced environment has to offer. Even though the central parts of marketing may remain the same across the board, the experience you have with it will change drastically depending upon your job.

And while most students would rather have their summers to themselves and enjoy late nights and lazy mornings, five years down the road, you might be wishing you tested the waters a bit more.

Why You Can’t Wait

So many people make the mistake of waiting until their senior year to do their first internship. Yes, you are more mature and more educated at this point in time, but it can be a devastating moment when you are in your final semester of college and your internship makes you realize that you hate the degree you have pursued.

This mistake can put you right back at square one as you now have a degree with minimal work experience, and you want to change the direction of your career path because you no longer have an interest in the one you originally chose. The most likely outcome of this scenario is that you are a college grad utilizing your biology degree as a waitress, or you’re right back at another internship; a fate most grads do not desire.

The biggest favor you can do for yourself is getting an internship your freshman year and trying to do one each year until you graduate. These internships may lead you to change your concentration or your major altogether, but in the end you will have more experience than most grads and you will have a better idea of what you want out of a job.

Starting early is crucial, and even though your friends might be spending their summers free of responsibility, you will be the one on top when graduation rolls around.

Not Just Course Credit

Internships are what you make of them. You may start off running errands and making copies, but if you create opportunities for yourself and prove to your superiors that you are smart and capable, you might find yourself heading up a big project by the time the semester comes to an end.

The reality is that your dream job will not be easily handed over to you the moment you get your degree. Shocking, right? You’ll have to be diligent and find opportunities to succeed in areas that many people may not have looked. However, if you are simply there to check off the “internship” box on your resume and receive that required course credit, believe me when I tell you that you will get as little out of an internship as you put into it.

Internships are not there to be one more thing you drag your feet through because you have to. They’re available to help you and propel you in the right direction, and with each internship, you become one step closer to the professional you will someday become.