North Central College students discuss how to get internships with employers.

Tips for How to Get an Internship in College

Laura Pohl

Oct 15, 2021

Tips for How to Get an Internship in College

You’ve probably heard the word “internship” during conversations about college and career preparation. Why is it so important for undergraduate students? For sound advice and proven ways to find an internship, read on!

Finding an internship during the school year or your summer break is a great way to obtain professional work experience and even some income. A summer internship can give you hands-on, valuable experiences and insights into the career field you want to work in. An internship introduces you to the inside workings of an office and the ins and outs of collaborating with co-workers and understanding direction from a supervisor. Some companies offer a formalized internship program while other organizations will be less formalized in their hiring. 

Why do you need at least one internship in college?

Here are the benefits and importance of internships in college: 

An internship can boost your confidence, help you gain feedback about your career-readiness and help you assess your career field.

  • An internship can help you learn how to communicate with a supervisor.
  • An internship can help you learn how to handle a challenging work situation.
  • An internship teaches you how to ask for work assignments and gain feedback. 
  • An internship provides professional connections that are stepping stones to your next opportunity. 

Bottom line: If you’re still a college student or just starting on your  career path, an internship prepares you to enter the workforce full time with professional experience. And even high school students can plan ahead for their career path.

An internship opportunity is either paid or unpaid, with some unpaid internship providing other benefits such as college credit. If your priority is to gain work experience, consider an unpaid internship. However, if income is a necessity, a paid internship might be the better option. 

According to, the availability of a paid internship may depend on these factors: 

  • The industry or field you’re working in
  • Role and job responsibilities
  • Experience required
  • Inclusion of class credit

Internship goals

You should establish your career goal for your internship far in advance, if you want to gain professional growth, make a positive impression, learn transferable skills and gain the maximum benefits of your experience. View the experience as a way to gain an understanding of your work style. Students who have already completed multiple internships will approach their additional positions as a way to develop a certain skill or decide between two careers or employers.

Are your goals measurable? If so, this becomes a talking point for your employment interviews later on. Just remember, your internship goals should be ambitious but also under your control. 

Research career industries

As you outline your career goal, identify the types of industries, potential employers, and roles you want to pursue. If you’re interested in a variety of fields and roles, focus your search by making a list of pros and cons for each. Once finished, target your search to the two or three most appealing options and then begin with a preliminary search of internship listings.

Ideally, both you and your employer will benefit from an internship position. By making yourself valuable to the organization, you’ll more easily gain professional references, career guidance and—the ultimate prize, a job offer!  

How do I get a college internship?

Below are three ways to launch your internship search, as recommended by Barbara Fouts, assistant director of career development at North Central College. You can certainly pursue all four at once to increase the odds of finding an internship experience in your future career field. 

  • Networking: This is often the best way to get an internship. Let everyone know that you’re pursuing an internship—family members, neighbors, friends who are already working at an internship, faculty and staff at your college or university and your career counselor in your development office. “Let them all know what you’re looking for—you’d be surprised at how many interns find their positions through a network, especially family and friends,” said Fouts. It’ll most likely be much easier to find an unpaid internship than a paid internship. However, if you factor in potential academic credit and the experiences you’ll gain for a resume, unpaid internships can be very valuable over the long-term. 
  • LinkedIn: This career and networking platform offers another solid alternative for finding internship openings. To check for any internship openings, go to the advanced people search option on LinkedIn and check the internship you’re interested in.
  • Social media:

    Many companies nowadays post job opportunities or internship openings on their social media pages. Follow companies you’re interested in to track new opportunities that may be available.
  • Job fairs: On-campus career fairs are often held in the fall months so be ready with your resume almost a year before you want to actually start an internship placement. Start by attending a career fair or checking a job board as early in your college years as possible—you might meet someone who remembers you down the road for any future job or internship opportunity. 
  • Handshake or other job-search platforms and internship finders: Find out what is available through your own career office on campus, which will offer internship postings. At North Central College, potential employers can list their internship opportunities on a platform called Handshake. This brings together reputable employers who are vetted by the Office of Career Development with students who are pursuing positions. 

Start early: When do I apply for an internship in college?

If you want a summer internship, start preparing far in advance. For paid internships, it’s important to start your search at least six to eight months ahead of your desired time frame.  Submitting an early internship application can have an advantage because employers are likely to notice them ahead of others. Some internship positions will have early deadlines—such as during the fall recruiting season--so starting well in advance ensures that you are taking advantage of all opportunities.

And don’t forget to research the requirements of your college major. Some academic programs require internship experiences, so you must start planning early to work this into your four-year coursework plan. A good source of information will be your academic advisor. 

Create an effective resume

Begin creating your resume with advice from the professional development office on your campus.

“Find someone to talk with to make sure your resume reflects your strengths, skills and goals,” said Margaret Stacy-Duffy, assistant director of career development at North Central College. “A resume is the first impression that potential employers will have of you.”

Even if you do not have much professional experience, write a resume that highlights your qualifications for the internship—and you may need to tailor it to the type of internship you want. Your resume can include leadership positions on campus, hobbies with transferable skills and personal traits that will transfer to your career. Your summer job may also provide relevant experience and references from an employer about your responsibilities and work habits. 

Find out more about North Central College

Brush up on your job application fundamentals

“You can submit 100 internship applications, but it’s better to be more targeted and focused in your search or it can be discouraging,” said Stacy-Duffy. “If you have personal contacts at a potential employer, focus your application there first.” 

Carefully craft your messages and information for your application and again, don’t be afraid to ask for help beforehand. One important aspect that can sometimes be overlooked in the process is knowing how to write a great cover letter. If you want to learn more, read our linked blog on how to write a cover letter for internships in college.

How to rock your internship interview

At North Central College, an online platform for practicing a mock interview is available to internship-seekers. “We make it available to students and alumni,” said Stacy-Duffy. “It gives students practice by recording their answers to questions and allowing them to get input from the perspective of a potential employer.” 

You’ll want to carefully look at the internship jobs description and identify three to five things that the employer is looking for. Then provide examples of how you can fill those needs for the employer. “Employers are looking for students who can share their knowledge and apply it to their job,” said Fouts of North Central College. 

Spend plenty of time rehearsing and when the day of the internship interview arrives, make sure you arrive on time. Calm your nerves and rock the opportunity! 

Time Commitment

Before you accept a position, consider the time commitment of an internship. Ultimately, an internship should complement your education but if it gets in the way of your ability to succeed in school, then it may not be the right step as a college student. 

Generally, semester-based internships require a time commitment of no more than 20 hours per week. Find out how many hours you’ll need to complete during a semester to obtain college credit. 

Internships during the summer months often require a full-time commitment. These opportunities are more likely to include compensation. You can also pursue internships during a study abroad program for a global perspective and explore career options in other countries.

What you’ll gain—Career readiness

For new college graduates, career readiness is key to ensuring successful entrance into the workforce. Career readiness gives a recent graduate the foundation to launch a successful career. Upon completing your degree and an internship (or two), here are eight career competencies you should acquire, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers:

  • Career & Self-Development  
  • Communication 
  • Critical Thinking 
  • Equity & Inclusion 
  • Leadership 
  • Professionalism 
  • Teamwork 
  • Technology

Just remember, the perfect internship may be hard to find, but an experience that gives your resume a boost will always be valuable! 

Laura Zahn Pohl is an editorial director in higher education, with 18 years of experience as a content writer, publications editor and speechwriter. An honors graduate of the University of Iowa School of Journalism, her experience includes corporate communications and freelance reporting for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Kalamazoo Gazette.