Employers are increasingly looking for internships on applicants’ resumes. Internships indicate some real-world experience. Some students complete multiple internships — as material for their resumes, but also to gain experience or to explore different careers. Internships also allow students to learn and practice professionalism so they’ll be ready for that first job.
But what if your student isn’t quite ready yet for an off-campus internship placement? Or what if your student can’t travel off-campus, or has multiple time constraints? Or, what if your student’s interests lie in higher education rather than in the commercial world? An on-campus internship might be just the answer for your student.
My student is already employed on campus. Isn’t that the same thing?
An on-campus internship is not the same thing as a campus work-study job or other student employment. Work-study jobs or other campus jobs can include everything from working in the dining hall, working for buildings and grounds painting dorm rooms, to office filing and keeping time at basketball games. These jobs usually require little training, are open to most students, and may or may not provide educational opportunities.
An internship, whether on-campus or off, is designed to help your student learn about a professional field and to gain valuable work experience. It is a professional experience, and professional experiences can take place on campus as well as off. Not all campuses offer internships, but there may be more opportunities than your student realizes. Your student should work with his campus Career Development Office, or whatever campus office supervises internships, to find out what might be available.
Why would my student want to stay on campus for an internship?
There are several reasons why an on-campus internship might be an ideal internship for your student — at least as a first internship experience.
- Your student might not be quite ready for an off-campus experience. Perhaps she needs to work to learn professional expectations or polish professional skills before entering another workplace. An educational campus environment may be an ideal, ”safe” environment to gain valuable experience and confidence with supervisors who understand college students.
- Your student might have difficulty with transportation. If your student does not have access to a car and public transportation is sparse, getting off campus may be difficult.
- An on-campus internship placement might allow your student more flexibility in scheduling an internship experience around a schedule that makes an off-campus internship more difficult.
- Interning on-campus will allow your student to get more involved in the campus community, network with college personnel and make important connections. This will increase your student’s engagement and also help him get to know people who may help him navigate his wider campus experience and/or provide important recommendations for him later.
- If your student is interested in the field of higher education as a career, interning on-campus is obviously the ideal environment to find out what happens ”behind the scenes.”
What should my student expect?
Your student should investigate the college’s policy about internships. Will this be a paid or unpaid experience? Can your student receive credit for the internship? What paperwork is required? When should your student apply? Is there a formal application? Your student should expect to start this process early — at least a semester ahead of time.
Like any other internship, an on-campus internship is a professional experience and should be treated like a job. Your student should expect to provide a cover letter and resume, participate in an interview, and possibly create a learning contract. It will be important that both your student and her supervisor be very clear about the training and support that she will receive, and both your student and her supervisor should be clear about their expectations of the experience. What assignments or tasks will your student be expected to complete? What outcomes does your student hope to accomplish? What support and supervision will she be given?
It is important that your student consider carefully why she is seeking this internship. What skills does she want to gain? How does this experience relate to her ultimate career goals?
While many departments on campus use student workers, it will be important that your student work with the appropriate people on campus to design a specific internship which differs from normal student employment. An internship should provide special opportunities to your student and help her learn and practice new skills and professionalism in her chosen field.
Where might my student intern?
There are many areas on campus which might offer internships and your student should think carefully about what she hopes to learn. Encourage your student to think creatively. If she is interested in a career in marketing, for instance, working in public relations, alumni development, or admissions might be ideal. A student who is interested in business might explore the finance department, alumni relations, or institutional research. As student heading toward a health career might consider the health center, counseling center, fitness center, or alcohol and wellness program.
If your student participates in an on-campus internship, she will need to be very clear on her resume that this was an internship and not normal campus student employment. She should be prepared to explain specifically what she did and what she learned.
A good first step
Depending on your student’s major and career goals, an off-campus internship may also be a good idea. More and more students now participate in multiple internship experiences. But beginning with an on-campus experience might be a helpful first step. Your student will gain important experience and confidence which may make the next internship even more rewarding.