The Why, How, and When of Summer Internships

If you are looking for a summer internship, you may already be doing the following:

Student in lab

  • Looking for opportunities on Handshake (LinkedIn, Indeed, Idealist…)
  • Applying for the openings you find on Handshake (LinkedIn, Indeed, Idealist…)
  • Looking again
  • Sending out more applications

If you’re not looking yet, those job boards are a good place to start.

But then what?  

Here are some common obstacles students encounter – along with ways to overcome them.

“I’m not seeing any internships related to my major”

The world is not organized around academic majors. Your major is a bundle of skills and interests that you can use in a lot of different ways. Look carefully the reasons why you’re seeking an internship, beyond “everyone tells me I should get an internship.”

  • What do you want to get out of the experience?
  • What skills do you want to gain?
  • How do you want to build on experiences you’ve already had?
  • What do you want to know or understand better than you do now?
  • What job functions or fields do you want to explore?

Answering questions like these can help you identify keywords to search and opportunities that will be relevant to your interests even when they are not obviously connected to what you are studying.

Also: read the emails that you get from Julie Higgs in LAS Career Services if you’re an LAS major! She curates a weekly list of opportunities related to specific major clusters.

“I don’t think I’m qualified for any of the things I’m finding.”

Many internships exist precisely to help people who have no experience get experience. Look carefully at the specific requirements listed in any internship you’re interested in. You are qualified for more than you think you are, and enthusiasm and curiosity are themselves important qualifications for internships. If you meet its stated requirements for an internship, you want to do it, and you can authentically convey your interest in your application materials, then you should apply.

“I’m not even sure what I should be looking for.”

Start with what you do know: that you are trying to get experience. Build out from there:

  • What kind of experience?
  • Why?
  • What have you already done or tried out?
  • What do you suspect you’re missing?

Thinking “experience” rather than “internship” will free you to think more broadly about how to use the summer to prepare for your future. Internships are one way to get experience, but there are many others:

  • Developing your own technical or creative project,
  • Getting some paid work experience (particularly if you have none) from a job,
  • Working for a summer camp or summer educational program,
  • Volunteering for a mission-driven organization that’s important to you,
  • Taking on a new leadership role in a place where you’ve already worked.

These activities (or some combination of them) are all ways to gain transferable skills, develop your skills, and explore your strengths.

“I know what I want to do, but I can’t seem to find internships related to it.”

The more clearly you know what you want, particularly if you have a niche interest, the more useful it will be to look beyond the big job websites.

  • Go directly to the “Careers” pages of companies or organizations that you’re curious about or might want to work for in future to see what internships they are advertising.
  • If you are interested in roles in state/county/local government or some form of public service, get to know the many different administrative entities (each with its own job board) that might have openings of interest to you: the various levels of the judicial system, parks and other public services, regional planning commissions, school districts, townships, water districts, etc.
  • Consider pitching your own internship. For some organizations, particularly smaller and nonprofit organizations, the costs – in time and staff power -- of running an internship program outweigh the benefits that interns can be counted on to provide. Such organizations may be open to taking on board someone who has done some research, identified some needs the organization has, and is willing to address those needs with minimal supervision.
  • Talk to people: professors, people you’ve worked with, your friends, family members, acquaintances, people working for organizations and companies that interest you. Let it be known what you’re looking for and what you have to offer.

“I’m worried I’ll pick the wrong thing.”

Any experience you gain will give you skills and insights that you can use to point yourself to the next experience, and the one after that. Few career decisions are irrevocable. Sometimes doing the “wrong” thing is the only way to figure out what the “right” thing might be. Career development rarely proceeds in a straight and logical line – detours, circles, and backtracking are often part of the process.  

“I’m afraid I’ve put it off too long.”

There are summer internships that closed last fall, last month, last week. There are also new internships being posted all the time. Career fairs are coming up where employers are still looking for interns to fill their recruitment quotas. Internships will continue to be advertised up till the end of the spring semester. Now is a good time to be looking.

“I think I need help figuring this out…”

You have help! The Peer Mentors in the LAS Lisnek Hub  and the career advisors in LAS Career Services are available to help you think through what you need from an internship, where you should be looking, and how to put together an effective application.


For more ideas on navigating your future career path, visit our LAS Career Services Blog

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By Kirstin Wilcox