What is the Value of a College Internship?

By Janet Siroto · December 12, 2023 · 7 minute read

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What is the Value of a College Internship?

There can be a good amount of competition for some college internships, and for good reason. They may provide invaluable work experience, exposure to an industry that’s of interest, and networking opportunities. But note the use of the word “may.” In some cases, an internship may not be as beneficial as others.

Here, you’ll learn more about the value of internships, both paid and unpaid, as well their advantages and disadvantages. Once you have that basic knowledge, you’ll be able to make the best decision for your needs. If you do think a college internship is a good move, then try the tips for finding one, also included below

What Is an Internship?

First, here’s a definition of an internship: It’s a professional work experience for a student. To add a little more detail, it can immerse them in a given career, show them some of the responsibilities typically related to a job in the industry, and give them hands-on time to do some tasks or two watch them be executed.

Internships may be paid or unpaid; some are completed to earn school credit. For some students, an internship can forge career connections and even lead to a job offer.

Paid Versus Unpaid Internships

An Internship’s value in terms of your future career hunting and job search can be considerable. But what about actually collecting a paycheck?

•   Some internships are paid (typically, a low wage, such as minimum wage) and others are unpaid, meaning there’s no financial remuneration.

•   However, some unpaid internships may allow the student to earn school credit, and some may offer a stipend to cover, say, transportation and food costs related to the job.

An internship is often a summer position, but it may also take place during a school break. Sometimes, a student may take on an internship during the school year, whether part-time or full-time, perhaps as part of the institution’s curriculum.

For example, Northeastern University in Boston is well-known for its co-op program which alternates periods of study with full-time work as a way of helping students prepare for their future careers.

One recent Gallup study found that about 40% of students had held an internship.

Are Unpaid Internships Legal?

Unpaid internships are a hotly debated subject. They are legal if executed properly. However, it can be important that unpaid internships do not have students engaging in the same work as employees but for free. In this scenario, an intern may do work adjacent to that of paid staffers, but they may not be able to actually get the hands-on experience they were hoping for.

Paid internships, obviously, offer the benefit of income and may allow students more hands-on experiences with work situations and tasks.

Both may allow participants to network and make valuable connections that could help them when they enter the job market. And both types of internships can be added to a student’s resume, helping them when they look for work.

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Value of Internships: Improved Employment Opportunities

Here, take a look at an angle on the value of an internship.

•   Many organizations offer internships, at least in part, to identify quality candidates for entry-level professional positions. The internship period, for those companies, allows them to vet interns to see whom they are impressed with. This can lead to a more permanent commitment, aka a job offer.

And the value of college internships could go beyond potentially getting a job where you interned.

•   If you apply elsewhere, other companies may very well look to see whether or not you’ve completed an internship. If you have, this could indicate the level of seriousness you have about pursuing your chosen career.

•   In fact, an internship could add to the value of a college degree as it shows that you already have a bit of experience applying your skills and education in the workplace.

•   It also shows that another organization was willing to have you work for them, another plus.

Applying for and nabbing a college internship is important in one other way:

•   It gives you experience hunting for a job, creating a resume, and, most likely, interviewing for a position. These are valuable real-world skills to hone.

Recommended: What Is an Apprenticeship?

Value of Internships: Personal Development

When you intern at a company, you’re not just gaining experience. Mull over these points:

•   Being in a workplace and seeing what it’s like, day in and day out for a period of time, can also help you decide what you really want.

Although, say, a summer internship may not provide enough time to definitively decide if a certain path is right for you, it might contribute to your feeling of, “Yes, this is for me!” or, of course, the opposite. At a minimum, you’re more industry-savvy than you were before, which might help guide your direction.

•   Your internship could also help you develop a professional network — a group of people who might assist you as you forge your own unique career path. They could invite you to industry events, and your contacts could also share job opportunities with you. They might even be able to provide references. Who knows? You might even emerge from the experience with a career mentor.

Just remember that, as you build your professional network, it could be important to nourish those relationships, keep in touch, and reciprocate support however you can.

•   Internships might help you build confidence, as well, in your knowledge, skills, and abilities. You may feel more at ease in a workplace and job-hunting situations.

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How to Find Internships

If you appreciate the value of internships and are ready to hunt for a college internship? You may want to try these tactics:

•   You could start by talking to your school counselors, who often have invaluable resources to share. Your college may have a career services or internships program or office to tap as well.

•   Look online. For example, Internships.com might be a great place to look. And, if you’re interested in specific companies, you could check their websites for opportunities. You might luck out with an internship that could lead to a rewarding job.

•   You could also talk to chambers of commerce, consult with professional associations connected to your career, ask for recommendations in the industry-focused clubs you belong to at college, and otherwise network and ask for advice. Career fairs might yield some leads, too.

•   Check in with your school’s alumni office. There may also be grads from your school who might be willing to make recommendations or even be hiring interns.

Some of the more coveted opportunities tend to fill up early, so you might want to start your search as early as you can. Your college’s career center might be able to guide you with timelines. You could focus on something that dovetails with your college major, but don’t worry about being too specific. Gaining a broad knowledge of your areas of interest could help you choose the right career.

Student Loan Refinancing

Internships could be invaluable for college students when it comes time to hunt for a job, and if you have student loan debt, getting a job earlier means you might have opportunities to pay down your student loan debt faster. That, in turn, could potentially help you save on the amount of interest you’ll pay back overall.

Another strategy you could consider is to consolidate all of your student loans and then refinance them into one loan that could help you save. (Keep in mind, though, that refinancing with an extended term can result in paying more interest over the life of the loan.)

To find out how much money you could save by refinancing, you might use an online student loan refinance calculator. An important note: If you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you will lose access to federal benefits and protections, such as student loan forbearance and forgiveness.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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