If you’re anything like me, I know you’re excited that summer is finally here! Even if you’ll be bogged down by a summer job or classes, it’s nice to know that you’ll be that much closer to college. I remember being in your shoes, looking forward to joining clubs, going to football games, and overall just taking advantage of every opportunity campuses have to offer.
Looking back, I can talk about some of those opportunities that should be at the very top of your list — internships. At the time, I knew I’d eventually have to get an internship, but I wasn’t sure what that process looked like or how valuable the experience actually was.
There will be a ton of internship opportunities available to you. However, you want to start becoming familiar with the process of looking for them and being prepared when the opportunities present themselves so you get the ones you want.
The Career Center is open to all students (yes, freshmen too). Some students make the mistake of waiting until they’re upperclassmen to check it out. It should actually be a key part of your time in college. The Career Center puts together fall and spring career fairs where they bring over 5,000 unique employers to campus, giving you an opportunity to engage with recruiters face to face. As a freshman, I put together my resume, found out about volunteer opportunities, and met with a career coach there. All of this helped me land internships.
Another great way to find internships is by getting involved on campus (there are over 1,400 registered student organizations to choose from). At the end of sophomore year, I started visiting the University YMCA. They place a great deal of emphasis on leadership development, community service, and social justice in their programming. After taking on a leadership role in one of the student organizations, I was encouraged to apply for a civic engagement internship offered at the Y. Thanks to my visits to the Career Center early on, I got the internship.
This internship was crucial in my development as it improved my communication skills, expanded my network, and increased my knowledge of policy at different levels of government. It also gave me experience in program planning, organizing, and nonprofit work.
Internships can either be on campus like mine or anywhere really. Thanks to a professional organization I was a part of, I was able to learn about INROADS. They specifically help freshmen and sophomores find internships in most major metropolitan areas.
Illinois even has classes that will help you find internships and do well in them. Two of my most helpful courses in college were BTW 250, Principles of Business Communication, and CMN 211, Business Communication. The former helps with performing and communicating research in business and professional settings, while the latter focuses on specific communication skills like learning how to network and becoming a great presenter.
I ended up getting a different internship as a result of a CMN 211 assignment, in which I was tasked with identifying companies or organizations I’d like to work for and requesting an informational interview with a staff member. After meeting with the executive director of a large community based organization in Chicago, I was encouraged to apply to an internship that would be offered over the summer.
One of the greatest things I came across was finding out you can do an internship and gain academic credit for it. As a political science major, my department allowed students to receive up to 12 credit hours for internships (this is the case for most majors). They even provide a long list of places and organizations where previous students have interned before. This worked out nicely because I received academic credit for my internship senior year. That meant I had one less class to take that semester, freeing me up to focus more attention on post-graduation plans and how to house my whole family on campus for graduation weekend.
Lastly, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable our faculty is in helping you get real world experience. They are some of the leading professionals in their fields, so I highly recommend going to your professors for guidance.
Hopefully this post gave you a better idea of how to get an internship. At every step of the way, from the search to the application process, and through the actual work in your internship, Illinois has the resources to ensure your success. I also challenge you to explore within your department and throughout campus. I-Link is a great resource and Research Park is an exciting hub!