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College Bound

Understanding the Value of Summer Internships

Each year as families consider the various options for summer, many inquire about the value of internships on a college applicant’s resume. Of course internships can be a constructive and enjoyable life experience. Their significance to admission officers differs at the undergraduate and graduate levels and depends directly on how meaningful they are to students.

First, let us clarify the difference between an internship and a job. The activities of a job are organized to facilitate an employer delivering goods and services to customers. Regardless of whether a young person is a summer lifeguard, camp counselor, store clerk, or office assistant, entry-level jobs offer teens an introduction to the world of work. A young person’s growth and development in these positions, however, is secondary to the goal of fulfilling the employer’s needs.

By contrast, internships are intentionally designed to benefit students, as well as the employer. Interns may still fulfill entry-level tasks, such as cleaning research labs, making copies for meetings, or being cashiers. They also participate in activities that broaden exposure to a particular career or industry. For example, interns may attend informational sessions, shadow employees, or have specific projects for which they are responsible. Ideally, an opportunity to reflect on what is learned is built into the internship experience.

For undergraduates, internships are important only to the degree that these experiences help students learn something valuable about themselves. Regardless of how prestigious the employer, admission officers are not positively influenced if they suspect a candidate has listed an internship in his or her application just for the sake of making an impression. At every step of the college admission process—from defining a school list to writing essays to completing interviews—candidates are challenged to articulate who they are and what motivates them. Internships (in addition to jobs or other types of summer experiences) provide fodder for young people to reflect upon personal aptitudes. They demonstrate that a student can hone in on an interest and has the organizational skills to make something happen in that arena.

By graduate school, internships take on more relevance—but again only when they have helped candidates develop talents and focus interests. Internships during the undergraduate years can help candidates for law, business, and medical schools visualize how they will apply the education they seek. Pursuing internships as an undergraduate, when they are not required for graduation, also demonstrates a candidate’s dedication to a field and secures foundational knowledge of a workplace. These attributes make candidates more appealing when they compete with many others for the internships required by graduate programs. Employers appreciate hiring graduate-level interns who have already worked in a law firm or are familiar with the day-to-day retail operations.

So how do students find internships? The Internet is a useful place to start. Many large companies and organizations have structured internship programs that have been in operation for years and are clearly articulated on their websites. As in a traditional job search, students can also brainstorm about personal connections and begin the process of learning how to develop a professional network.

Internships can turn up at any time, for varying lengths, and in any field or industry. The most important goal is to keep the search directly linked to an area of genuine interest and create a meaningful opportunity for the student's personal growth.

Deena Maerowitz specializes in college and graduate school advising. She can be reached at info@thebertramgroup.com