10 Common Misconceptions About College Internships

By Lorena Roberts on January 31, 2018

College internships are oftentimes one of the most important goals of today’s college student. Gaining the experience you’ll need in the future, or wanting to explore the environment of a company who does what you do can be some of the most valuable education you can gain. Though internships can seem hard to get, thousands of college students embark on an internship journey every semester.  Sometimes students don’t apply for an internship because they think they’re unpaid, or the process is simply “too difficult.” It’s easy for today’s college student to feel so overwhelmed with their classes that the thought of the internship application process is just too much. A common thought is that applying for an internship will take too much time and may not turn out favorably. Because people have so many misconceptions about college internships, many of them go unfilled every semester. Some of the most common misconceptions about college internships are:

college internships, internship, intern, unpaid intern, meeting, coffee runs, making copies

via pexels.com

1. Interns only make coffee and copies.

People tend to believe that interns don’t do anything worthwhile for the company. However, this is totally untrue. Companies don’t hire college students to do mundane tasks that no one else wants. Sure, you may have to make a few copies throughout the semester, but the majority of your job should be doing something worthwhile. Unless, of course, you accepted an internship for copy-making.

2. All internships are unpaid.

A common rumor about college internships is that they’re all unpaid. However, there are a fair number of internships that are paid. The pay might not be as high as you were expecting — mostly because you don’t have a degree yet and you’re an intern, but having an internship and gaining the experience of being an intern can easily outweigh what might seem like less-than-perfect pay.

3. All internships will result in a job offer.

Most of the time, this could probably be assumed. However, there’s always a chance that your internship won’t turn into a job. However, you shouldn’t accept an internship hoping that it leads to a job. You should accept an internship because it will give you the experience you need to be better at your job in the future. If you’re a really great intern and your internship turns into a job — wonderful! But the expectation shouldn’t be that an offer will be waiting for you on your last day.

Don’t be discouraged by this misconception! Just because your internship may not result in a job offer at the end of the semester, there’s a lot more that could result! If you walk into your internship every day ready to work and get the job done, more than likely you’ve acquired more than one strong recommendation from your internship supervisor. This can come in handy when you are applying for jobs following graduation. Having someone to vouch for your work ethic and productivity in the workplace will go a long way when it comes to securing a job.

Employers have overwhelmingly stated that an internship is one of the most important factors to consider when they look at hiring recent college graduates. Additionally, completing an internship can result in:

  • increased confidence: you’ll feel more confident in your workplace abilities if you’ve had experience in the field
  • critical contacts in the field: maybe your relationships with these people aren’t strong enough to serve as references, but they may be able to steer you in the right direction when it comes to finding a job after graduation
  • an education you can’t learn from the classroom: there are certain things textbooks and professors cannot prepare you for. Don’t let this scare you. A college internship is the perfect place to gain the knowledge you need to excel in the workplace

4. Only nationally recognized internships are “worthy.”

College internships are worthy, whether or not they’re with a company that’s nationally recognized. The experience you can gain from any company, regardless of their “national ranking,” will be worthy in the future. Applying for jobs after you’ve had an internship automatically gives you a leg-up on all the applicants who haven’t had an internship. It doesn’t matter if you worked for BuzzFeed or not, at least you went through the process of applying and accepted a position as an intern in the first place!

Infographic created by Lorena Roberts via Visme.com

5. You should only apply for internships in your field of study.

It’s perfectly fine to apply for internships in related fields. After all, a large portion of your education can come from the experience of doing it. What you’re studying in school doesn’t have to limit you to what you’re capable of doing on a day-to-day basis.

Internships with non-profit organizations are some of the most flexible. If you’re willing to help people and work with the community on a daily basis, you’re more than qualified to be an intern at a non-profit. When you’re thinking about applying for an internship, or you’re looking for an internship you think you would enjoy, don’t limit yourself to what you’ve studied thus far. Internships are open to all kinds of students and majors. You’ll never know if you don’t try, right?

6. Internships are only for the latter half of college.

Internships come in many shapes and sizes. You aren’t forced to wait until you’re a junior or a senior to get an internship. The earlier you can snag one, the better off your resume is going to look. Internships are offered during each semester and the summer.

Students tend to think internships are for the latter half of college because this is when students tend to have time to use a semester interning. It’s unlikely that in the spring semester of your freshman year you’ll get an internship, just because you haven’t taken too many classes yet, but by the time you’re a sophomore, you’re a strong candidate for an internship.

If you don’t want to use a semester working an internship, there’s always the option of taking a summer internship. Additionally, you can often gain college credit for an internship if you set it up with your department. Engineering, business, and architecture often set up flexibility in their programs of study for an optional internship. This is probably because students in these majors are the most likely to apply for and get an internship.

The experience and education you’ll gain from being an intern, even for just the summer term, is more valuable than pushing your graduation another semester. If you have the opportunity to work an internship, but you’re worried it’s going to take you longer to graduate, think about how much more attractive your resume will be when you enter the job market if you’ve already had some experience. It’s definitely worth it, and I think any advisor you talk to will tell you to absolutely snatch that opportunity!

7. A high GPA will get you an internship.

A high GPA will certainly help your application throughout the process, but this isn’t the only thing you’ll need to get an internship. The process is much more complicated. If you want to secure an internship, one of the key parts of the process is an interview. If you get invited to an interview, you should be prepared in the following ways:

  • research the employer beforehand
  • have a list of questions that are important for you to have answered
  • dress professionally; you won’t be taken seriously if you show up in a T-shirt
  • arrive on time
  • be positive
  • be energetic
  • thank the interviewers; showing gratitude will make you stand out

8. Interns are “free labor.”

Oftentimes, companies are excited to welcome interns to their team! New, fresh ideas, upbeat personalities, and young, excited individuals can add a whole new perspective to the team’s goals. Sometimes, unpaid internships get a bad name because it seems like interns are being taken advantage of. But this is likely not the case. Companies seek out interns for a specific purpose — whether that be training (hopefully) future employees, gaining new perspectives, or giving back to the colleges and communities who support them, an internship (even if it’s unpaid) is beneficial for both parties.

If you find yourself making copies and coffee runs in your first few days at the office, don’t be disgruntled. Part of working an internship is for the company to see what you’re interested in and what you’re willing to work on while you’re there. Don’t be afraid to voice your ambitions to your supervisor. Showing you’re interested and motivated will really impress your coworkers!

9. The application process is long and enduring.

Knowing when to apply for an internship can be tricky. The rule of thumb is that it’s never too early to start researching and applying for an internship. You’ll have to get all the materials together that are necessary to complete an application. Sometimes you’ll need recommendation letters, transcripts, and, of course, you’ll need to interview.

However, needs of an organization can change on a dime, so if you’re looking for a summer internship and it’s late spring, keep trying — do not give up! Companies will oftentimes reach out for an intern at the last minute simply because their needs have changed.

If you’re looking for a summer internship (which I would say is most popular), you should start researching and applying before winter break. There’s a lot that goes into accepting an intern to a company, so the earlier you start the process, the more likely it is that you’ll have everything together and be fully prepared to be considered for an internship.

Try not to get discouraged during the application process — lots of college students embark on this journey every semester. You are fully capable of landing an amazing internship. Keep pushing.

via Pexels.com

10. An internship will prolong graduation.

Sometimes students assume that an internship will prolong their academic goals. However, it is more than possible to make an internship count for college credit as well. Typically, there is some way to accrue credit for an internship. Whether it be through the department you’re in, or elective credit, sometimes referred to as “field study,” receiving credit for the work you’re putting in at an internship is more than possible while you’re in college.

It’s important to start looking into the possibility of an internship early on for two reasons: planning your academic timeline and meeting all the necessary requirements to graduate. If you want your internship to count for college credit (which you more than likely do!) get started early to ensure everything is in place.

What’s in it for the employer…

Sometimes college students assume that an employer is just looking for free labor, but this is likely not the case. Employers use internships for a few different reasons. The underlying reason for hiring an intern is for the company to get a return on their investment – whether it’s in the present or the future. Sometimes hiring an intern is a solution for the company being unable to find a full-time employee to take a position.

Another reason an employer might be looking for an intern is because they want a new perspective on a project they’re currently involved with. Sometimes interns are the best way to get a refreshing take on something that the company’s been working on for a while.

If an employer is looking to improve the overall public view of the company, hiring interns that have positive experiences may boost community reputation. When interns have a good experience with a company, they’re more likely to talk about their experience with their peers, friends, and family members.

Employers should approach your internship with a list of accomplishments you both want to achieve. You should feel obvious transparency between you and your supervisors. You should feel like part of a team. If you don’t, you should think about whether or not you want that internship.

That being said, an internship during college can be a fantastic experience for today’s student. There’s so much to be learned from working with people in the field, understanding how a company operates, and gaining the knowledge and experience that comes from an internship. If you’re planning to apply for a college internship, know that the application process is half the battle.

Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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