If you are on any college-related mailing lists, no doubt you're receiving messages about internship opportunities. As an online student you may or may not be required to complete an internship as part of your formal degree program, but even if you're not, it can be a great way to get the practical experience employers are looking for and make professional contacts along the way.
While summer is a popular time for internships, you may find the application deadlines for these and next Fall's opportunities are in the Spring (or earlier). Here are a few initial steps to get you moving in the right direction:
- Consider the requirements. Internships come in a variety of formats: on-site and online, paid and unpaid, for credit and not-for-credit, formal and less-structured, semester length and project-based. Think about how much time you have available in your schedule over the next few academic terms, and what you may need to complete your degree program. If internships or practicum hours are required by your school, check with your department for guidance. You may even find placement coordinators who can ease the process, connect you with companies and organizations, and ensure that the position you take will be counted on your transcript.
- Support your career goals. Many online students enroll in their academic programs with career goals already in mind. Are you seeking advancement in your current field? Or perhaps transitioning to a new field or industry? The University of Maryland University College recommends "setting your target." Take some time to analyze any gaps in experience you may be able to fill with an internship. Explore options that will lead to work on specific kinds of projects, allow you to practice new skills, or experience a new workplace environment.
- Look for opportunities. Online databases such as YouTern.com provide ways to search posted positions by location, keyword, industry, and more. Also check with your academic advisor and career center for more information about partnerships and existing relationships between your school and specific employers. Arizona State University's Career Services website offers an example of the resources you'll find, such as local and national lists, opportunities for specific student populations (e.g., students with disabilities), and related articles.
- Build your network. Building a professional network in your new career field is just one of the benefits of becoming an intern, but you can also begin the process now to help you find opportunities. And you can start with you school's alumni network: attend networking events in your area, search the directory for alumni working in your field or at companies you are interested in, and reach out for tips and guidance about how to gain more practical experience while in school. Some institutions and alumni associations – take a look at UCLA's Alumni Internship Network – have initiatives in place to specifically help students and alumni connect through internship and mentoring programs.
- Gather your materials. Many internship positions are filled using a process very similar to what you'll find when conducting a job search. Be prepared to submit a resume and cover letter, and to potentially participate in an interview. Many formal internship programs are competitive and accept only a small number of the students who apply, so the quality of your application materials is critical. A for-credit internship, such as the education administrator internships offered by the University of Phoenix, may also ask you to submit academic transcripts, references, and other items, such as proof of insurance or certification, depending on the requirements of the industry and work to be performed.
As you explore internship possibilities, keep in mind that they are just one avenue for valuable first-hand experience in your field of study. You may also want to consider other types of short-term employment, volunteer work, and professional development activities that allow you to take on new responsibilities and gain skills that will benefit your future employers.
And remember that you are not alone in the planning or application process. Not sure what's right for you? Reach out to your school's student support offices for advice on moving forward with new opportunities designed to help you meet your career goals.
Are you considering adding an internship to your schedule? Your concerns are likely shared by many other students, as well. Post your questions about the process here.
Image Credit: Natalie Barletta, Flickr, CC:BY-NC-ND