A study found grade point average and the total number of internships a student completed as an undergraduate student are the major predictors of initial career outcomes.
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Path to job often begins with college internships

Expert says parents ought to encourage their kids to pursue internships

I interviewed an expert on college internships a few years ago who told me most college students who sought internships had a parent pushing them into it. (Her mother was the motivating force in her getting her first internship.)

My two college students ignore my advice on the importance of interning. Maybe yours won’t.

In querying college grads, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that more than 60% of students with a paid internship on their resume had received at least one job offer. (The hiring rate is not as high for unpaid internships, which are, fortunately, becoming rarer due to government crackdowns on some abusive practices.)

Companies use the intern process to spot new talent and identify potential job candidates. An internship also tells an employer that students took the initiative to go beyond the classroom to learn about how the profession operates.

And while an internship lets prospective employers see students in action and evaluate their skills, it also enables students to figure out if the company is a place they’d like to work after graduation.

If your students need more convincing on the payoff from internships, tell them a study found grade point average and the total number of internships a student completed as an undergraduate student are the major predictors of initial career outcomes.

You can also show them this advice from former college dean and university professor Sonya Shuler-Okoli, who now counsels families on college-going strategies.

By Sonya Shuler-Okoli

If I collected a dollar every time I heard a parent of a college student tell me, “My child will just go back to their old high school job while on break,” I would be a millionaire. Well, not quite but you get the point. 

The reality is many parents push their children to work jobs while home on break from college to earn money for school. I understand those extra bucks are needed to supplement those parent dollars when the students return to school. But parents have to consider return on investment, which may utimately render a summer job flipping burgers or making lattes far less lucrative than an internship. 

College students should not spend summers in fast food or retail. Their time is better spent doing actual work in their desired field, even if they don’t earn much doing it or incur out-of-pocket expenses to accept an intern post in Seattle or New York 

College internships are much like applying to a top-tier university. Although competitive, many students never even try. And not because they don’t think they can cut the mustard, but because they lack an understanding of the value. 

And the value is significant; this small step has the power to place them in the best position to secure employment after college graduation. 

Here are the top three benefits:

Your student is less likely to be a habitual major changer

One of the most important pieces to the college and career puzzle is the connection of academic coursework to workforce skills. This is overly stressed during high school years but often overlooked at the college level. In my professional opinion, a student consistently changing majors is one who has not found a connection to industry and academic discipline. 

They get on-the-job training and clarity
 

A student who gets to test the waters of a profession before earning a degree saves themselves from turmoil. While getting a feel for areas that speak to their interest, they are ruling in those things they like and ruling out those tasks and roles that are not appealing to them. 

Employers like experience and often hire their interns
 

Students who intern get an opportunity to work in an organization that just might be that first real job for them. This is a critical step because it places students in a position to connect with folks and establish networks in the industry when it’s time to graduate and become employed.

Getting the degree is now only half the battle. Unlike decades past, our workforce has a deeper applicant pool of college graduates. Employers seeking entry-level professionals expect completion of a four-year degree. They often want more; they are looking for students who went beyond and gained experience through internships, co-op jobs and research fellowships. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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