Seeking an internship — 5 factors to consider

I recently received an email from a student asking my advice about internships. As many college students are interested in having an internship, I thought my answer to her could be useful to others.

From the student’s email:

I am a rising senior this coming school year, and I only have 4 classes to take until graduation. I am basically trying to decide whether to graduate a semester early in the fall and find an internship in the spring, or graduate in the spring and find an internship this fall. What advice do you have?

My response:

Here are five issues to consider as you decide when to pursue the internship:

#1 – Does the organization have an internship for both fall and spring semesters?

Some organizations/businesses don’t have year-round internship programs. More organizations have summer internships. So check the organization’s website and even call the HR office or internship coordinator to find out. You don’t want to make plans for an internship for a specific semester only to find out the organization you want to intern with doesn’t have internships during that semester.

#2 – Are you seeking a pre- or post-graduation internship?

You are considering whether to have an internship before or after you graduate. Some organizations have internships that require you to be taking the internship for college credit. By taking an internship for college credit, you would be a student and not an employee, which can have implications for health and liability insurance. When a student is doing an internship for college credit, that helps make the intern more accountable. Sometimes interns can quit before the end of the internship. By taking the internship for credit, students are less likely to do that.

Some organizations have post-graduation internships that are, in a sense, trial jobs. The business can try out the grad for the limited time of the internship and for a lower salary and then decide about hiring the person. Those post-graduation internships can work out well in that they can lead into full-time jobs. But those internships typically are for grads who have a strong skill set and have had previous internships.

#3 – Have you had previous internships?

If this will be your first internship, you probably won’t be competitive for a post-graduation internship unless you have developed a strong portfolio through volunteer/club work and/or you have a connection with the organization.

#4 – Paid or unpaid internship?

Several recent lawsuits by former interns who weren’t paid are making some media-related organizations change their internship programs. Some aren’t having interns or have only a few paid internships. So you and your family need to talk about your financial situation and whether you could take an unpaid (or low paying) internship.

#5 – What will be your living arrangements during the internship?

Some students have to plan internships based on their living arrangements. They are paying rent on an apartment where they are in college, so they must have the internship in that town. Or they seek the internship in their hometown, in part, so they can live at home and not have to pay rent. So that’s another financial consideration. Some organizations/businesses help you find housing, but very few pay for housing for interns.

After you have researched an organization’s website, you can email or call to ask questions. Organizations that have interns want to have good ones. So they will appreciate you being informed and proactive.

What other advice would you offer about internships?

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