College and Career

Paid vs. Pro Bono and Other Options: A Student’s Guide to Getting an Internship

October 25, 2019

As early professional training experiences, internships offer a plethora of opportunities for students just starting out in their fields. An internship can help you gain career expertise and get your foot in the door at your dream company. It will aid in the development of soft skills like teamwork and problem-solving. If you score a paid position, it can even help you fund your higher education.

How do you select the right internship? Are paid opportunities always superior to pro bono versions? How long should you intern for, and are there any pitfalls to avoid? Read on to learn more.

1. Paid vs. Unpaid Internships

The first question to ask yourself when making this determination is, “Can I afford to take an unpaid position?” Unfortunately, many internships in the arts and communication fields offer only a tiny stipend — if they extend any at all. Remember, everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. If you’re already juggling a full-time job with your college coursework, you won’t get the most out of your unpaid experience. You risk your grades slipping as a result — and if you rely on a scholarship to help with tuition, this could jeopardize your future.

Paid internships are more competitive than unpaid posts, so remain flexible. If you miss a paid opportunity during the school year, consider a part-time, unpaid position during your winter or summer break. That way, you can continue to work an additional part- or full-time job while gaining experience in your field.

2. Part-Time vs. Full-Time

Full-time internships offer a host of benefits — if you have the time. You get to tackle more challenging projects instead of sticking to administrative tasks. And if you take on such a position while school is out — or if you earn college credits for your work — you can focus your intentions to make the most out of the experience.

Part-time internships come in handy if you take part in multiple extracurricular activities. You usually have more flexibility in your schedule, meaning you can take off to attend a track meet or game. The downside is, you don’t get to immerse yourself fully in your work. However, part-time posts can lead to full-time careers once you get your degree. If you find a company you adore working with, go for it!

3. Local vs. Somewhere New

Logistically, it’s more accessible and affordable to take an internship close to home or school. However, traveling to a new city pulls you out of your campus comfort zone and opens your eyes. If you opt to take a position abroad, you get to learn about a new culture and improve your mastery of a foreign tongue.

If finances are your primary concern, consider staying close to home. However, if you have the means, travel. You’ll increase your understanding of diversity. If you’re considering relocating after graduation, taking a position in the city informs you how you like living there before you make the final leap.

4. A Related Field vs. an Unrelated One

You might wonder, “Why would I want to take an internship in a field unrelated to my major?” Doing so can broaden your career prospects considerably. If you take a post at a small startup, you’re more likely to jump right into your work instead of spending weeks training. This shock helps you develop resilience and problem-solving skills. Plus, if you enjoy the job, you’ve gotten in at the ground level. You have nowhere to go but up at such an organization.

Maybe you’ve studied to become an English teacher, but you’ve realized you adore writing more than interacting with children. Consider taking on an internship at a marketing firm. Perhaps your coursework has prepared you to become a database administrator, but you want to try your hand at app development. Now is the time to branch out before you accept an ongoing career position.

Tips for Applying for Your Internship

Applying for an internship is similar to applying for any other job — with one exception. While online job boards often feature already filled positions, they do cater to entry-level seekers. You can take advantage of sites like LinkedIn or look for online student-centered resources to find suitable internships.

Check with your family and friends about opportunities, as well. Sometimes, companies don’t advertise all available opportunities — but employees know about them. You can ask detailed questions about company culture if you know someone who already works there.

When you apply, follow the directions on the forms precisely. If the organization requests three references, provide them. Always triple-check your spelling and grammar. Have a trusted friend or family member review your resume and application with fresh eyes.

Using an Internship to Further Your Career Aspirations

The right internship can launch a successful career. By following the tips above, you can find the perfect opportunity and kickstart your professional development.

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