The Costs and Benefits of Internships
August 6th, 2012
Even though it is illegal for employers to offer unpaid internships, it’s happening. Not only are these positions unpaid (or paying well-below market), but students also need to find additional funds to finance housing, food, and transportation for the summer, often in expensive cities. The question being asked now by many media publications, including the Wall Street Journal, is: Are summer internships worth it? My answer is absolutely and unequivocally YES for four reasons.
First, internships provide a real-world taste of potential professions to encourage or dispel your student’s interest in a job function, career path, organization, industry and/or location. Whatever the outcome, students are more informed about the world of work and about their own interests and aspirations on a variety of dimensions. Without this experience, s/he will never really know. As I like to say, “You never really know until you try it.”
During your student’s internship, s/he will learn things about the job function, industry and location that could never be learned in a textbook. While online job descriptions, career guidebooks and informational interviews provide a strong (and necessary) starting point, it is important for your student to gather real-life information through the internship experience.
Second, internships deliver an excellent opportunity for your student to build a professional network within his or her organization, industry and location. These adult fans may become friends, mentors, recommenders or connectors to future opportunities of all kinds – inside the organization or even in areas completely different from the internship experience. As I like to tell students, “It’s not just who you know, but who likes you.” It’s important for students to build their friend network during their internship, and it has to be much more than just a “Facebook friend”.
Third, your child will acquire technical and professional skills to complement their liberal arts education at Wake Forest. Employers are looking for students who not only can read critically, write persuasively, and think analytically, but potential hires who have technical industry- and work-related professional skills cultivated from an internship. Students learn much while at school, but the opportunity to develop professional skills must be initiated and developed in an internship.
Fourth, many employers hire their interns for full-time positions. They hire students for the summer between junior and senior year and based on the student’s performance during their internship, they hope to hire as many as possible and not have to recruit senior students. As a result, it’s very important for students to begin seriously thinking about potential career directions as early as their sophomore year. It’s helpful to begin even sooner by visiting with an OPCD career counselor and reviewing the OPCD website to understand the process and begin reflecting, exploring and taking action.
Fundamentally, an internship is an investment in your student’s future. While the cost of financing a summer internship in addition to the academic expenses may not seem fair, the value is priceless – even if the result is that your student rules out a career direction. It’s much less costly to learn that while your child is still in college than when s/he is in her 20’s floundering between full-time jobs with little clarity of direction.
Through an internship, your student will better understand where s/he would like to begin his career and will begin developing the professional knowledge and skills. Understanding the gaps from where your student is today and where they need to be will motivate them to learn and be proactive. To help your students learn more about how to search for and secure an internship during this coming academic year or to plan for next summer, check out our web page on Internships.