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Finding and Succeeding in College Internships

March 18, 2024 :: Admissionado Team

landing an internship

Internships have become a pivotal part of the college experience, offering students a glimpse into the professional world while providing hands-on experience in their chosen fields. Whether you’re seeking to enhance your resume, network with industry professionals, or simply explore potential career paths, an internship can be a game-changer. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the process of finding, choosing, and excelling in the right internship for you.

5 Reasons You Should Get a College Internship

1. Learn How to Work

Let’s face it. College teaches you how to think, not how to work…that’s where internships come in. Take internships as a way to learn the ropes of your future career and to be able to do your work that much better when it comes time for you to graduate college and enter the workforce!

Want to be a fashion designer? Try getting a gig with Ralph Lauren. Get advice from your new co-workers about starting a career in fashion by finding out how they got their start. Look for ways to show off your talent, embrace the boldness of your peers, and perfect the basic skills that a designer has to have. Then, you’ll be sure to pick something up that will make you more marketable when it comes time to apply for a position there.

Want to be a politician? Look for place on your state Senator’s next political campaign. You may end up spending a LOT of time making copies and poring over letters from constituents, but if you’re paying enough attention, you can also learn a lot. Find a mentor – someone who has worked campaigns before and can help you throughout the experience. Be prepared to assume the life of someone in politics as well. People in D.C. say there is no such thing as a 9-to-5 for good reason! This is a perfect way to figure out if you can manage the work schedule this sort of job demands.

2. Get Solid References

What’s one great way to convince a future boss of what you are capable of? Having one of your former employers sing your praises. The worlds of fashion, politics, etc. are smaller than you think, and the boss at your internship may be able to put in a good word for you when you’re trying to land a job with one of her colleagues. The heads of today’s large campaigns likely interned together back in the day. The leaders in the fashion industry get to know one another through the events they put together. The point is – having a contact in the industry who can speak to your work is a HUGE advantage.

Your good grades and shiny diploma will prove that you are capable of the work, but the support of someone in the industry will prove that you’ve done the work and you’ve done it well! Applying to graduate school? Same deal! You may be able to get helpful letters of recommendation from the job.

3. Boost Your Resume

Sooner than you think, you’ll have a fancy bachelor’s degree to show employers, buuuuut so will all of your friends. Not only will everyone else applying for jobs have a bachelor’s degree, but some will have graduated from the most elite universities in the country. What will set you apart?

You’ve guessed it! Work experience – the stuff you put on your resume! That’s where internships can be worth their weight in gold. Internships prove to employers that you are actually interested in what they do and when put to the test, you can actually do the work they need to get done! The job market is brutal, and you need every advantage you can get so that you can find yourself gainfully employed after graduation. Good grades, test scores, and enthusiasm just aren’t enough anymore.

4. Networking

Yes, your boss may be able to help you down the road, but don’t count out all the other people you interact with during your internship. The other people you meet through the position may also be able to help you in your job search, whether by passing your name along to one of their colleagues or letting you know about a new job opening. Everyone says, “90% of jobs are never even advertised.” Networking through your internship is how you find out about those positions.

How exactly do you network? Have business cards on hand to exchange with people that you meet through the job. Once you’ve made some contacts, it’s a good idea to set up informational interviews with people doing work that interests you – these interviews can put you in touch with even more people in the industry.  Follow up with your new contacts. Shoot them an email after the meeting with a copy of your latest publication or the like. Try to maintain a relationship with the contacts you build and make them aware of your professional goals.

At best, your efforts will help land you a sweet job! At worst, you will simply meet some interesting people in your future career field.

5. Explore Career Options

Maybe you don’t even know what you want to do after graduation let alone during your time off during college. Internships can help you figure that out.  Interning is a low-key way to explore a possible career path and figure out if it’s actually right for you.

Innovative vs. Traditional Internships

When it comes to internships, there are two main approaches: traditional and innovative. Each has its own set of benefits and can serve different purposes depending on your career goals and interests. 

Traditional internships are part of established programs within companies or organizations, offering structured roles with clearly defined responsibilities. The formal application process is competitive, requiring a polished resume, cover letter, and multiple interviews. These internships provide built-in networking opportunities, steady support from supervisors and mentors, and a structured learning environment that helps interns gain valuable professional experience.

Innovative internships are self-created positions tailored to your specific interests and career goals. This approach involves proactively reaching out to companies and pitching the idea of an internship. These roles offer greater flexibility, allowing you to focus on areas you are passionate about. Innovative internships can provide unique, diverse experiences and personalized mentorship, as they are often less traditional and allow for unconventional learning opportunities.

How to Land and Make the Most of a College Internship

Regardless of whether you choose a traditional or innovative internship, the steps to land a position are going to be more or less the same. Here’s how you can successfully land and maximize your internship:

1. Start Your Search Early

Procrastination can lead to missed opportunities. Begin your search as soon as the school year starts to familiarize yourself with available internships and their deadlines. Apply 3-4 months before your desired start date to ensure you don’t miss out.

2. Leverage Your Network

Start with the people you know. Classmates, professors, and alumni can offer insights and connections. Don’t overlook your college’s career services office and online resources. If traditional internships aren’t available, consider creating an innovative position tailored to your interests by reaching out directly to companies.

3. Prepare Your Application Materials

A solid resume and a compelling cover letter are crucial. Highlight relevant skills and experience, and ensure your documents are typo-free and correctly formatted. Seek letters of recommendation and prepare work samples if required.

4. Be Yourself in Your Cover Letter

Stand out by showcasing your personality and passion. Avoid generic templates and speak honestly about your interests and goals. This approach will make your application more memorable.

5. Research Companies and Positions

Contact former interns or use university resources to learn about potential internships. Understanding the company culture and job expectations can help you determine if it’s the right fit.

6. Advocate for Yourself

Once hired, be proactive in seeking out tasks and projects. Don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibilities or negotiate for a stipend or payment if needed.

7. Set Goals and Network

Define what you want to achieve during your internship and communicate these goals with your supervisor. Build relationships with colleagues to create a network that can support your future job search.

Which Internship is Right for You?

Choosing the right internship can be challenging, especially if you have multiple offers. Consider these factors to make the best decision:


Yes, it’s important that you enjoy your 9-to-5, but you should also give some thought as to whether or not you will be able to enjoy your time away from work as well. You can choose an internship in your local college town or you can explore options available in the U.S. and abroad. Regardless of where you go, you should find a place where you will be able to use your free time to enjoy yourself. Always wanted to visit Washington, D.C. or Rome? You should consider choosing an internship that places you there. Want to spend more time with your friends? Consider a placement in your hometown or college town. Bottom line – give some SERIOUS thought about whether or not you would want to live in XYZ town for a summer!

Paid vs. Unpaid Internships

I hate to break this to you, but internships are usually unpaid. Of course, a paid internship is more appealing for obvious reasons. So, it should come as no big surprise to you that paid internships are harder to get. Still, that doesn’t make paid internships better. Unpaid internships have plenty of advantages! Oftentimes, unpaid internships make up for the loss in income big time. For one, you can get college credit through an unpaid internship. Also, you may get more interesting, hands-on duties instead of being paid for boring clerical work. Give unpaid opportunities serious consideration if you can, because they can turn into really great experiences.

Office Dynamics

It’s also a good idea to figure out if the office is a good fit for your personality. Find out if it’s a small office or a large one, and if that works for you. Is the internship pretty hands-off or will there be someone breathing down your neck the whole time? What’s the best way to get an impression of what the office is like? Get in touch with a former intern. Sometimes, you can find contact information for previous interns from the employer or the company website.


You don’t NECESSARILY have to intern during the summer. You should find a way to optimize your free time and intern when you won’t be missing out another equally great opportunity. You definitely need a sizeable chunk of time available to intern. Just imagine what sounds more impressive to employers? A two-week internship or a two-month one? Yes, most internships are available in the summer, but you can still find opportunities during other times of the year.

If you can’t intern during summer or winter break but you REALLY want the experience, you may want to consider taking a semester off to intern. Many organizations offer semester-long internships. Don’t want to take a semester off? You can find part-time internships to take on while you are in school. One really great time to intern is right after you graduate college. It can’t be said enough – getting a job is tough! If you are still unemployed after graduation, it’s a good idea to accept an internship while you continue your job hunt. You’ll be adding new experience to the resume you shop around to employers, and for all the reasons we’ve mentioned, the internship itself may be able to land you a job.


Internships are an invaluable part of the college experience, offering a bridge between academic knowledge and professional application. By starting your search early, leveraging your network, preparing thoroughly, and choosing the right opportunity, you can gain experiences that will enhance your resume and pave the way for future career success. Embrace the chance to learn, grow, and explore through internships, and you’ll find yourself well-prepared for the post-college job market.