An internship meeting where a lady sitting with a laptop at desk across from two other ladies

College Success

The Ultimate Guide To Getting an Internship

01.18.2023 • 10 min read

Bob Patterson

Former Stanford Director of Admissions

Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting an internship. Also learn about the common types of internships, and faqs.

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In This Article

  1. What Is an Internship?

  2. How To Get an Internship?

  3. College Internship FAQs

A NACE study found that students who completed one internship were more likely to find employment within 6 months after graduation; then students with more than one internship were twice as likely to gain employment. That’s right. Internships can be game-changers. They offer benefits like growth, networking, experience, and job opportunities.

What Is an Internship?

An internship is a temporary period of work experience. It involves working with an organization for anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Getting an internship is a fantastic opportunity for college students to gain valuable experience in a career field.

Most internships are unpaid, though some may offer small stipends. They provide an invaluable chance to learn new skills, build beneficial connections, and gain exposure to different areas of work. Internships can be found across almost any industry—from finance and marketing right through to education and law. There’s something for everyone!

How To Get an Internship?

1. Choose the Type of Internship

Internships are a great way to gain experience and can give you a leg up in the job market. There are various types of internships available, each with their own unique benefits and challenges. Here is a guide to the different types of internships you can pursue:

Summer Internships

Summer internships provide the opportunity to gain work experience in a professional setting over the summer months between May and August. Since school is out, you can focus on gaining work experience instead of completing homework—unless you’re taking a summer course too. Most summer internships last anywhere from eight to twelve weeks, though some may be shorter or longer.

Semester Internships

A semester internship in college is a type of internship that is typically completed during a semester. Semester internships may last anywhere from a few weeks to a full academic semester, depending on the employer.

Semester internships may also be more intense and more focused, as employers may assign more specific tasks and projects that require more in-depth knowledge.

College students gain valuable experience in their chosen field, develop professional skills, and make valuable connections in the industry. Some internships may offer academic credit, which can be used towards a degree. Semester internships may be paid or unpaid, depending on the employer.

Co-Op Programs

A co-op, or cooperative education program, is a type of academic program that combines traditional classroom study with paid, practical work experience related to a student's field of study. Co-op programs typically involve alternating periods of study and work, allowing students to gain real-world experience and develop contacts that can prove useful after graduation. Many co-op programs are offered in areas such as engineering, computer science, business, and health sciences.

Virtual Internships

These internships are becoming increasingly popular due to their flexibility and convenience. They’re ideal for those who cannot commit to an on-site internship or have difficulty finding one close by. Virtual internships allow interns to complete tasks remotely without having to travel or move away from home.

Research Internships

Research internships provide interns with an opportunity to conduct research on a topic related to their field. They may involve working under an established researcher or professor to create independent research projects.

No matter which type of internship you choose, it’s important to research each opportunity before applying. It should align with your career development journey. Doing this will ensure that you get the most out of your internship experience.

2. Focus on Your Goals

During this process, it may be tempting to apply to as many internship opportunities as you can. Hold on though. That can actually be more stressful. The more applications you submit, the more cover letters you have to write and potential interviews you have to do. That’s already a lot of work on top of your college courses. The disappointment you may face after submitting random applications is worse. You are far better off being focused.

Also, consider your degree first. Have you chosen a major yet? What is it you’re studying? What is a potential career field? Look at the highest-paying jobs and degrees to help you get started. Do you have any career goals?

3. Find Potential Internships

Visit Job Sites

You can find internships under job postings online. Traditional job-oriented websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, or Monster can be reliable options. Equally, internship-specific websites like Chegg’s internships or internshipfinder.com can be helpful.

Looking up the companies you’re interested in works too. Even reaching out to employees is a bold move that could work in your favor. Write a letter of interest, reach out on LinkedIn, or fill out the contact form on the company’s website. You never know where it might lead.

Also, don’t forget smaller companies or startups. Some of them list internships on their websites under the Careers section.

Visit Your Career Center

Using your college’s career services department or career center can be one of the best ways to find internships. It’s likely alumni will post internships on their website, and there may be job boards up in the offices.

If your college holds career fairs, this department can help you prepare for them. Plus, they will have developed a strong support system to help students with all career-related affairs.

Reach Out to Your Network

Think about your family members, friends, classmates, professors, and career counselors—anyone that you know. Don’t be afraid to reach out. At some point, they may have been in the same position and may be willing to help you with your internship search.

LinkedIn is also a valuable asset when it comes to networking. Create a profile here once you begin your job search.

Job recruiters can also be quite beneficial. They can offer direction and advice on the job application process and insight into the hiring process. This helps job seekers locate the ideal position that best suits their abilities and qualifications.

Recruiters can also help match job seekers with firms who are hiring, as well as offer helpful tips on how to present oneself most effectively to employers.

4. Write Your CV/Resume

Once you've found internships, you want to apply for, it's time to prepare your resume. CVs and resumes are documents that highlight your skills, education, and professional background. This is similar to a LinkedIn profile—which is also a great thing to set up. It may be that you think you have nothing to write about, but that’s never true!

Start with the easy things like your name, contact information, and education.

Then think about some of your transferable skills, such as:

  • Independence

  • Responsibility

  • Organization

  • Time management

  • Scheduling

  • Research

All of these you will have developed, at some point, during your high school and college years. Once you have made a list of skills, try to connect them to particular experiences. For instance, perhaps you were a babysitter; this job involves managing responsibilities and communication skills. Build up your resume by focusing on what you have done, not what you haven’t. In the beginning, nothing is too small.

Once you have a draft, make sure to edit and use the STAR format. STAR is a way of responding to questions or topics in a structured manner.

STAR stands for:

  • Situation

  • Task

  • Action

  • Result

Discuss a specific project you worked on or a specific challenge you overcame. You can also use it to explain your successes and how you achieved them. highlight meaningful results, and quantify your impact wherever you can. Sometimes online CV template examples can be helpful.

By using the STAR format, you can provide a clear, detailed, and easy-to-read summary of your experiences and accomplishments. This can help you stand out from the crowd and make it easier for hiring managers to understand the value you can bring to their organization.

Top Tip: Keep it to 1 page. You can downsize the font, change the layout, remove some spacing while also keeping it beautiful and organized. Being brief is best here.

5. Write a Cover Letter

A cover letter is another opportunity for you to share your education, skills, and experience with a future employer. Don’t overdo it though. It’s not a repeat of your resume.

Cover letters should be specific to the internship position you are applying for. This really matters. Your cover letter should let your potential employers know you have done your research about the role and the company. Because of this, you will need to write a different cover letter for each internship you apply to. As we mentioned above, this can be time-consuming.

Top Tip: It can be helpful to copy and paste the role description as well as any key skills at the top of your cover letter draft. This way, you can make sure you keep referring to it as you write. Once you’ve finished, don’t forget to remove it though!

6. Apply Early

When should you apply? Timing is key. Different internships have various deadlines. Many internship programs fill up quickly. You want to make sure that your application is submitted well before the deadline. This gives you a better chance of being accepted and ensures that all requirements are met.

Having the right materials ready is also key to a successful internship application. Make sure your resume and cover letter are up to date and tailored specifically to the position you’re applying for. You may need additional materials, such as references or samples of your work, depending on the type of internship you’re applying for. Be sure to check with the company or organization what they require before submitting your application materials.

It can be helpful to have someone else review each document for clarity and accuracy before submitting them. If possible, try to get feedback from an experienced professional who works in a similar field as this can help refine and improve your documents even further.

7. Keep Developing Your Skills

While you’re thinking about your skills, don’t forget to keep developing them during this internship-seeking process. You can even enhance your skills without an internship. Look for new opportunities to gain new transferable skills or hone your current ones. Check out on-campus opportunities. Participate in more extracurricular activities. Volunteer.

Even speaking up a little more in class can contribute to your speaking or debating skills. Looking for an internship doesn’t mean your journey stops. Keep growing.

8. Follow Up

Don’t forget to follow up. If it’s been a few weeks since you submitted your internship application and you haven’t heard anything, check in. Everyone forgets when things get busy.

Top Tip: When you do follow up, nothing is more important than politeness. Sending thank you emails, being respectful, and finding the balance between professional and friendly show employers you are someone who will be pleasant to work with.

College Internship FAQs

How do I get an internship with no experience?

It feels impossible sometimes: you need experience to get experience, but no one will give you experience because you have no experience! Rather than letting this get you down, stop and think about what you do have.

The more you understand your own skills and experiences, the easier it is to talk and write about them. All small jobs count, all extracurricular activities count, all of school and college counts as relevant experience. You will have done something that interests an employer, you just need to believe yourself that you have. And once you have completed your first internship, it only goes up from there.

Should I get a job or an internship?

Paid internships are rare. Unpaid ones aren’t practical, even if they can be good experiences. If there is an opportunity to do both, think of the experience you’re getting.

To choose between the two, you need to consider what the internship is and what it offers you: Will the experience enable you to find your career path? Will it be full-time or part-time? Will it lead to a new job? What are the skills you can develop?

Equally, for the job: Will you need it to live? Are there other shifts available? Will it be full-time or part-time? You are the only person that knows the answers to these questions. Whether you pursue a job or an internship, you are still learning lots.

Will there be an interview?

Most likely—for any job or as part of the internship application process, companies want to know who they’re hiring. Beyond just your skills and experience (everything that you’ve already written down), who you are as a person and if you fit into their company is really important.

You can prepare for an interview in the same way you prepare for everything: research! Research the job description, common interview questions, employees, company goals… Anything that you have access to.

Can you get an internship after college?

Although securing an internship following college may be more difficult, it can still be done. To increase your chances, you should have relevant experience and knowledge from outside of school.

Some companies or programs specialize in offering internships for recent graduates or those with previous experience in their chosen field. No matter the route taken, getting an internship after college is achievable with the right preparation and attitude. The whole point of doing an internship is so you get experience! It may be the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about an industry or business that interests you, to meet new people and grow your professional network, and, of course, to develop new skills.

But your internship experience doesn’t always have to be positive. Sometimes, you learn the most from internships that didn’t work out. Perhaps they lead you in a new direction or highlight exactly what you don’t want from a career. Whatever the results, look at every experience as just that: experience. The right internships are the ones you learn from. You have a long life ahead of you, and there will be lots of different career opportunities. Good luck!

About the Author

Bob Patterson is a former Director of Admissions at Stanford University, UNC Chapel Hill, and UC Berkeley; Daisy Hill is the co-author of Uni in the USA…and beyond published by the Good Schools Guide 2019. Together, they have established MyGuidED, a new educational tool for students looking to apply to university (launching 2023).

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