Four Steps to Finding a College with a Strong Internship Program

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By Tyson Schritter, Chief Content Officer, Colleges of Distinction
Special to Campus News

Internships are a great way to boost your chances of landing a job after college. By building your foundation of experience and creating a network of professionals in your field, you can often translate your internship into a great, full-time job upon graduation.

Unfortunately, not all internship programs are created equal. Internships should be an integral part of your college research. Here are the basics you should know — as well as some discerning tips that can help you choose wisely.

What is an internship?
Internships (and cooperative education, or co-ops) are temporary, professional jobs at a company or organization that are specifically designed for college students. While conceptually internships and co-ops are the same, internships typically are part-time during an academic semester (or full-time in the summer), with students continuing to take courses at their usual pace, while co-ops are full-time and replace coursework for an academic term.

In both of these experiential learning opportunities, a student usually has a supervisor or mentor at the company who guides him or her through the job, training and teaching the student about the business. These programs give students a chance to gain practical experience in a work environment before earning a degree and without the typical hiring requirements. As a result, interns get to test out different work environments, network with and prove themselves to potential employers, and gain valuable professional skills and experiences that can translate into a full-time career after graduation.

Why are internships important?
In an increasingly competitive job market, it pays (literally) to get professional experience in your field while attending college. Having at least one internship or co-op experience while in college dramatically improves your employment chances after graduation. According to a 2015 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 56 percent of students who had an internship or co-op received a job offer upon graduation, while only 36 percent of students without internships had the same success. Even more dramatic, 72 percent of students with paid internships received job offers, and students with for-profit company paid internships received higher salaries than those who worked elsewhere, with a median salary offer of $53,521.

Why should you consider internships as part of your college search?
After a decade of experience evaluating the quality of education at top liberal arts colleges, I’ve discovered that schools which incorporate strong internship programs into the curriculum have the best student career outcomes. Based on hundreds of campus visits and research into what makes a program successful, here are my four steps to finding schools with effective programs:

1. Consider the college culture.

You should ask several questions of all potential schools. Does the school you’re considering have a strong internship policy? Are internships required for most or all academic majors? Do you see obvious signs of corporate sponsorship and engagement on the campus? Are C-Suite (CEOs, CFOs, etc.) business executives represented on the college’s foundation and alumni boards? Does the college have a business incubator which it owns or with which it is affiliated? Do students get valuable internships and have great things to say about them? Northeastern University in Boston is a great example. It blends internships and other experiential learning (co-ops and practicums) extensively throughout the university.

2. Are internships incorporated into coursework?

In some of the best programs, students complete academic work that feeds directly into an internship, or they take courses that support the internships they are taking concurrently. Many good schools also create capstone courses during the senior year in which students perform actual work for businesses, not-for-profits, community grassroots initiatives and so on. Student clubs can provide similar opportunities. These allow students to tie academic theory in with practical experience. Through background readings, interactive seminars and reflection exercises, students are able to contextualize what they are learning.

3. Does the academic calendar accommodate internships?

For students who wish to finish their degrees in a timely manner, having a curriculum and schedule that provides time for internships is essential. Schools such as Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, have nine weeks of coursework and three weeks of time for experiential opportunities (including internships and similar experiences) in the fall and spring.

4.  Consider the level of integration between career services and academic affairs.

Schools committed to making internships valuable and accessible usually have career services offices that work within the community to build ties to local businesses and organizations for potential internship placements. These offices also collaborate directly with faculty or other academic staff to ensure that internships meet academic objectives and reinforce classroom learning. The best career services offices do more than help with cover letters and résumés —they actively connect students with internships through databases, interview opportunities and other resources.

If you investigate potential campuses using this four-step approach, you won’t be disappointed when you’re ready for real-life experience in your field. An internship might be a few years away, but it truly pays to choose a school with a great program and many options.

Tyson Schritter is Chief Content Creator for Colleges of Distinction, an organization dedicated to helping people navigate the complex college admissions landscape. For 15 years, Colleges of Distinction has been a trusted resource for more than 40,000 guidance counselors, thousands of parents and students, and hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S. Its mission is simple: help parents and students find not just the “best college,” but the right college.

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