It is no secret that internships for college students are a way to gain valuable skills and build a strong resume. In a competitive job market, finding the right summer internship takes careful preparation and planning. The sooner you start your internship search, the better your chances are of securing an offer (or two!) that will help you get one step closer to your dream job after graduation.
It is never too early to begin the process of researching and applying for summer internships.
Here is how to get started.
What is an internship?
Internships allow students to gain real-world work experience before graduation. Employers set up internship programs that last usually between one and four months. Typically, internships are unpaid, but you may be able to request course credit. During an internship, students get practical experience in their intended field that can be added to their resume.
How to start your summer internship search
It is important to begin your summer internship search early. This gives you plenty of time to research potential companies that offer internships for international students, submit your applications and schedule interviews, and plan for temporary moves (e.g., summer housing), if needed.
1. Use campus resources
Schedule a meeting with an advisor through your university career development office or through the Career Accelerator Program (CAP)–an exclusive Shorelight service for international students. Here, you can learn which companies offer internships and summer jobs for college students. If you already have a few companies in mind, ask your advisor if the department can help you make a connection with them.
Through CAP, Reynard, a University of South Carolina junior from Jakarta, landed his dream internship at the Indonesia branch of Ernst & Young, one of the world’s leading finance and consulting firms.
“The Career Accelerator Program made me more confident in myself on the possibilities that I could reach,” he says. “[It] helped me get a sense of how to deal with the professional environment. It got me prepared on how to do an elevator speech and it helped me create my resume, which actually led to me being accepted by EY.”
2. Find your own internship
If your school does not have an existing relationship with your dream company, do not worry! You can still apply through the company career website.
Most companies have a link at the top or bottom of their homepage labeled “Careers”, “Career Center”, or “We’re Hiring!” On these pages, there is often a place to submit a resume and cover letter for general employment opportunities or internships, and many have a separate section for college students with instructions and deadlines for applying.
You can also expand your internship search by researching companies and opportunities on job sites like Indeed, Internships.com, and LinkedIn. To receive alerts of new internship opportunities via email, set up automatic keyword searches.
Karan, an Indian hospitality management student at University of Central Florida, is planning to do a culinary internship at a Hyatt-managed property in the Colorado mountains as part of his career goal to become a chef after graduation. “Getting to know different people and cultures will really help me,” he says. “I’ll be getting to know what the culinary field is all about.”
I’ll be getting to know what field work looks like, and how to be in the field. Showing my skills is a really great thing.” – Karan, University of Central Florida, Hospitality Management
Professors are another great resource for internship ideas and can advise you about internships other students have done. They may even set you up to talk with alumni of a particular college internship program so you can ask questions about their experiences.
When to apply for summer internships
Business internships at big-name companies, and especially paid internships for college students, can be very competitive for the summer season. Some company deadlines for summer internships are as early as October! Many companies post application deadlines on the career sections of their websites, or they share deadlines with the career centers at the colleges they often hire interns from.
Because summer jobs for college students can get so competitive, it is smart to apply for multiple programs to increase your chances of getting an internship. Keep in mind you may not get accepted for your dream internship on your first try. If your application is rejected, you have the opportunity to ask for feedback to try again next year.
If you are setting up your own internship outside of an established internship program, there may not be a specific deadline, but you will want to finalize your plans a few months in advance so you can coordinate with your US college or university and make sure you can get credit.
What to look for in an internship
Companies that run structured college internship programs are often organized with specialized projects, events, and training sessions for students. These internships are ideal if you are still in the process of discovering what you want to do and want to learn more about jobs in the US.
If your field is very specialized and you know exactly what kind of work you want to be doing, be open to a variety of internship possibilities and organizations.
For instance, when Adelphi University MBA student Visarat from Thailand chose her internship, she wanted to focus on her passion for marketing. “I got a summer internship at North Shore Animal League America, helping research with marketing and promotions,” she said. “This job helped me to experience the real American work environment and style and encouraged me to develop my skills to be ready for my future career path.”
Paid vs. unpaid internships—how to choose
When you start looking for internships, you will find that some are paid, and others are unpaid, but offer course credit.
Both paid and unpaid internships for international students offer value beyond compensation, including course credits and opportunities to build your network, gain valuable skills, and even discover potential career prospects.
Paid internships typically offer a stipend or salary to offset your cost of living. Paid internships for college students are sometimes called “co-ops” and can be more competitive than unpaid internships.
If the internship is unpaid, but at your dream company, consider the value of getting your foot in the door and find out if you can get course credit. The same rule applies if you are considering an unpaid internship that matches well with your career goals—for example, if you want to be a software engineer, there could be long-term benefits to taking an unpaid internship that gives you the opportunity to write code, which you can then add to your portfolio and resume.
As a general rule, when researching and applying to internships, it is usually better to intern for a company that puts a value on your work, either through compensation or course credit.
Setting up course credit for your summer internship
If you will be doing an internship for credit, check with your college career center for deadlines to apply and confirm you will receive credit on time and in the expected amount. Whether you do a paid or unpaid internship, it is up to your college internship program department to determine whether the internship will earn course credits, and how many. Confirm everything before accepting an internship to make sure the program meets your school academic requirements.
Externship vs. internship—what is the difference?
Unlike an internship, which lasts for a few months and is typically paid and/or offers school credit, an externship has you following a professional in your field for anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks. During this brief time, you observe the day-to-day activities of the role to give you an understanding of the typical responsibilities of your potential future career.
Think of an externship as a quick introduction to the career that interests you: it can be a great way to gain insight but does not have the resume- and relationship-building benefits of an internship.
How to apply for summer internships
1. Prepare your resume
Your campus career counselor can help you create a resume tailored to your goals. Work with them to determine what to highlight on your resume, such as previous employment, campus involvement, volunteer work, technical skills, extracurriculars, and academic achievements. This also helps you prepare for your future job search.
As an international student, creating an English-version resume to apply for a job is difficult. The career center helped me edit my resume to assist me in being prepared for the job.” –Visarat, Adelphi University MBA
2. Write your cover letter
Preparing a cover letter for an internship application includes briefly outlining your career goals and strengths and showing how they align with the company mission and values. In your cover letter, talk about not only the company itself, but also the department you would like to work for, and how your experience and skills would be a good fit for both. Show that you are excited about the role by referencing something specific about the company.
3. Gather letters of recommendation
If the internship requires letters of recommendation, reach out to a favorite professor and/or other professional or academic contacts as soon as possible to give them time to complete your request. If the company asks for references, this means they will reach out directly to your contacts to ask questions about you. Ask your contacts if they are willing to provide a reference and which way(s) they prefer to communicate (e.g., via phone or email), along with their most updated contact information.
4. Prepare for the interview
Mock interviews are question-and-answer sessions you practice in advance with a career counselor or friend. Keep in mind that for your summer internship you may be interviewing with more than one person—potentially hiring managers, internship coordinators, and/or department leaders. You may even meet with a current or past intern, which is a great opportunity to ask questions about their experience.
5. Say thank you
Follow up after the interview with a brief email thanking your interviewers for spending time speaking with you. It is a good idea to follow up with a handwritten note as well, thanking them again and referencing something from the interview that is relevant to your skills within the role. Try to put this note in the mail the same day as your interview so it is received while your interview is still fresh in their mind.
What to do once you are offered an internship
Congratulations! Once you receive the good news, it is time to get ready to work. The company human resources department or internship coordinator (whichever group sponsors internships for international students) should provide next steps about which documents are required, your schedule for orientation, and/or what to expect during your first week on the job.
Through CAP at Florida International University, Maria, a marketing and hospitality double major from Colombia, landed an internship with Social Ventures Partners, a Miami-based organization that collaborates with local community-focused startups. Her internship work focuses on marketing strategy, assisting with social media, and planning and implementing educational events.
I’m excited to spend [the] summer gaining experience alongside fellow interns and working with fellow entrepreneurs who share my dream of growing local businesses.” – Maria, Florida International University, Marketing and Hospitality
1. Dress for success
Make sure you have the right clothes for the office environment. Pay attention during the interview to get a sense of what people wear in the office. Depending upon your industry, many workplaces have a less-formal dress code that includes dark jeans or khakis, collared shirts without ties, and sweaters instead of blazers.
Even if it is a more casual environment, clothing should be clean, understated, and modern. Be sure to have at least one professional suit ready in case you are invited to a meeting with clients or management.
2. Watch and learn
During your first few days at your internship, do more listening than speaking to get a sense of the office etiquette and culture, which may vary depending whether you are working at an established firm or a startup. If the internship is full time, you will really get a sense of how a workplace functions, which is a great learning experience.
If you need help or advice, reach out to the company human resources department or the career department on campus.
To have the best options available to you for summer internships, start researching as soon as possible, even as early as a year in advance of when you want to do your internship. Getting together your resume, cover letter, and recommendations beforehand will help you be ready to apply when the right opportunity presents itself.
Good luck on this exciting first step toward your dream career!
Shorelight can help with the summer internship application process. Learn more about Shorelight Career Development Services >