3 Ways Internships Benefit Students
With the arrival of the fall semester, many university undergraduate and graduate students are returning from internships. They’ve taken breaks from their coursework to apply some of the skills they’ve learned to real-world problems while hopefully learning new skills along the way.
Every summer, interns fill the halls of Adobe and other companies. I’m reminded of my own internships in undergrad and graduate school and how those experiences shaped my career. One major benefit of internships is that they can help students discover the career they want to pursue. But I also want to highlight a few advantages that are discussed less often: internships teach students to solve real-world problems and give them a road map for future learning.
Internships can help students discover the career they want to pursue
As an economics undergrad major, I once thought I would pursue a career in finance or banking, but a summer internship in that industry helped me understand the day-to-day work and that it wasn’t a match with the type of career I wanted to have long term.
In a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, “81.1% of graduates [who completed three or four internships reported] that the internships helped them shift their career directions either significantly (34.8%) or slightly (46.3%) by changing the focus of classes or majors.” Thankfully I was only a sophomore in college when I learned I don’t love banking. With the knowledge of what I valued in a job, I had plenty of time to pivot. My career path didn’t have to be 100% defined upon graduation, but it was helpful to test the waters in an internship before diving in full time.
Universities and teaching faculty can help students test their potential career choices. I remember several professors in undergrad and grad school using class time to bring in industry professionals for career panels. These sessions allowed me and my classmates to ask candid questions and get a sense of what it’s actually like to work in different jobs and companies. Faculty can help by exposing students to career opportunities in low-stakes interactions, like panels or small consulting projects. These informal connections sometimes even lead to students finding an internship or a job!
Students benefit from solving real-world problems
In the real world, boundaries are messy, and student success will be determined by how well they can navigate between those messy boundaries and synthesize disparate sources of knowledge. Contrast this with what learning looks like for most university students (and looked like for me in my own education): we go from classroom to classroom and textbook to textbook, where disciplines are frequently framed as self-contained problem areas. Careers aren’t defined by disciplines; in one day, I may need to write a blog post (like this one), create a financial model, and work with engineers who are building new products.
During the school year, faculty and universities can help students prepare for these messy problems with interdisciplinary coursework that brings together students from different majors or experiential courses that ask students to address a business or design prompt for a national company or local business. In my grad school coursework, I collaborated with undergraduate students from engineering, psychology, and political science to build a chatbot prototype for a media nonprofit. Because this group of students looked more like the teams I’d work with in my career, this “classroom” experience taught me collaboration and critical-thinking skills that I could take with me after graduation.
Internships give students a road map for future learning
Working in an industry helps students learn firsthand exactly what it takes to succeed in the early years of their careers. I was able to reflect on some important questions in my own internships: What are the gaps in knowledge to succeed in the roles I hope to have in the next five to 10 years? How can I make the most of the time I have left in school to build a robust skill set? Most importantly, how can I set up the early part of my career as a time to continue learning?
Faculty can go above and beyond by collaborating with students on their curricula to help them prepare for internships and jobs. Faculty played a huge role in preparing me for my internships and early career, and the most helpful classes were those that adapted the curricula to prepare us with skills that were relevant to the jobs we all wanted after graduation.
Not only can internships help students discover the career they want to pursue, but they also give students an opportunity to practice real-world problem-solving and prepare them to become lifelong learners. Internships can play a significant role in a student’s education, giving them extra knowledge and confidence to enter the modern workforce.
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