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How To Know What To Look For In An Internship You Get In College

How To Know What To Look For In An Internship You Get In College

We all know that getting an internship in college is important, but it’s hard to know what to look for in an internship. There are so many paths out there, and some of them are easier to start down than others, but no matter where you’re headed in the future, gaining some experience can prove helpful in actually landing the job you want down the line. So how do you know what to look for in an internship you get in college? Ask yourself these questions before you start looking!

Do I Know What I Want To Do?

If the answer is yes, you need to find internships that will help you get there. For instance, if you want to go into medicine, working in a Doctor’s office, volunteering where you can, getting CPR certified, and finding a science related internship will all put you on the path to working in healthcare. There are plenty of pre-med and nursing internships out there, and preparing yourself for what you want to do will make a huge difference in helping determine what you do and do not like in that specific field.

If the answer is no, what to look for in an internship will be based on your interests, hobbies, and any prior experience you have. Gaining internship experience actually helps you rule things out and highlight areas of interest for you. If you’ve always been drawn towards one field more than others, start there. When you’re interested in many different career paths, it can be a lot harder to know what to look for in an internship, but looking back at what you’ve done so far, which experiences you enjoyed, and the reasons why you did those things will give you some clues of where to start.


Do I Have Applicable Experience?

Applying to positions you’re interested in is great, but actually getting those internships is another story. You should apply to anything that seems like a good fit for you because you never know, but definitely the more competitive internships will be easier to get if you have prior experiences that are related to the internship.

If you’re going for a role that you don’t have experience in, don’t worry, but be prepared to explain why you want this specific position. Sometimes, we have experience that isn’t readily apparent on a resumé or in a transcript, such as you know someone who does what you’re applying for, and you’ve always loved hearing about their work.


Doing some research on the internship and the jobs the position might lead to will prepare you for the internship, and for the interview. Your research might also highlight some personal qualities that you possess that would serve you well in the internship and on that career path, which will lead to really great responses in your interview.

Will I Actually Learn Anything In This Internship?

What to look for in an internship is an educational experience, first and foremost.  However, the quality of said education is tough to gauge, especially if there aren’t reviews from past interns or people you know to help you figure out exactly what your duties will encompass. In an internship, you most likely won’t be getting paid, so you better be paid in knowledge and experience that you can spend on new and better experiences in the future. What to look for in an internship is a sturdy building block: if it won’t make a good foundation, do you really want to spend your time on it?


For instance, most jobs require that you have experience with certain applications. A very popular software would be Microsoft Office, especially Excel. Other common applications include Mailchimp and WordPress. Depending on the position you want you may need to be familiar with other software such as Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, or something else specialized for your career path.

Check out the qualifications for jobs that you may want in the future, and figure out if you can learn any of those skills now in your internship. This is particularly beneficial with software because so much is done online now, and you don’t want to have to worry about learning a new software and a new job at the same time.


Who Will My Supervisor Be?

Before or during your interview, depending on if the information is disclosed, make sure to figure out who your supervisor will be. Your supervisor determines how much you learn in the internship, and they also determine whether or not you will enjoy your experience. The best internships I’ve had have been so good because I got along with my supervisor, and was trusted to do and learn things that might not have been accessible to me otherwise. 

In a supervisor, you want someone who is hands-on enough for you to learn, and hands-off enough for you to solidify your skill set. Someone supportive is important, in my opinion, but assess your own learning style and needs so you know what you personally need to look for. If you don’t know how to do this, start by thinking about the best teachers you’ve had. Who did you learn the most from? Who was the best at actually teaching? Who did you like the most? What qualities overlap?

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Will I Be Working With Anyone Else?

Your supervisor is the most important person you will be working with, but that doesn’t mean that they will be the only one you’re learning from. Being surrounded by people who interest and inspire you can make your internship into a positive and productive place, and you can add a variety of perspectives to your education. Plus, making connections can lead to jobs later on, and that was probably the reason you wanted the internship in the first place.

Knowing whether or not you want to work alone or in a group is also a good thing to consider. If you do a research based internship on your own, and you realize you prefer being part of a team that you regularly interact with, that will be valuable for you to know when applying for your next position.


Will My Time And Energy Be Valued?

Some internships exploit interns, and that’s just the truth. Interns often feel like they can’t complain since they are so happy to have been given a chance, and sometimes they don’t remember that they, too, have rights in the workplace.

Since you most likely won’t be getting paid, you will need to gain something from the experience, and doing a bunch of work for free is certainly gaining experience. However, you have to weigh the pros and cons. If your internship will repeatedly ask too much of you and the payoff will not be of equal or greater value in the future, consider if this is the right internship for you. Your time and energy is valuable, and you should invest it wisely.


Knowing what to look for an internship is a challenge, but hopefully this list will help set you on the right track! What is the number one thing you’ll be looking for in your next internship?

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