Is there no one thing that contributes to a successful college experience?
About a year ago in an article about student motivation, I referenced a book by Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takucs, How College Works, which actually boiled down the successful college experience to one key element: someone needs to spark a student’s motivation. That could be a professor, another student, and alumnae, someone, anyone. The crux to college is to meet as many people as possible to find that spark. Advice even included forget about the topic of a class, go for the professor. If a star is teaching Introduction to Geology, then learn about rocks.
The same type of searching applies to internships as well. Most of the time it is unclear what type of internship one wants, with what type of people, in what kind of organization, and doing what type of jobs. After all, life isn’t some neatly laid out sit-com in which one action leads cleanly and logically to the next; rather, it’s usually a conglomeration of messes, needs and confusions that must be sorted out and set right. That’s the nature of finding a job or getting an internship: the real effort with the payback is getting into the offices, talking to people, and then learning how a business or agency or institution actually functions. The more people you talk to formally and, especially informally, the more chances of success.
Eisenhower mentioned that, "In preparing for battle" — and getting an internship might be a battle — "I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
So, possibly you’re planning to be the next Steve Jobs with a line of i-refrigerators. Or maybe you want to design the Tesla motorcycle line and currently you’re studying mechanical engineering with a minor in industrial design. If you want to make your path to employment more promising an internship or several internships might prove very useful.
According the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an organization that seeks to match college students with promising organizations in the workplace, the vast majority of its employer members state that the primary reason they offer internships is for recruiting purposes. This makes intuitive sense as well. As an employer you would want to see your prospective employees in action.
According to another study, the major skills most companies are looking for in an employee (in order of importance) are working as part of a team, learning how the company works, organizing and planning, communicating clearly, and problem solving.
Furthermore, you want your internship to be paid. When the NACE sampled 9,200 seniors, over 63% with paid internships had secured jobs, versus 37% with unpaid internships, and 35% with no internships. In confirmation, Intern Bridge, a specialist in college internships, researched 11,000 students and the paid internship holders had double the job offers of their unpaid internship colleagues.
Yet no one can determine the variable that factors most strongly in transforming an internship into a job. After the NACE isolated the data by gender, ethnicity, academic major, GPA, and even educational level of parents, one factor stood out- academic discipline. The best way to gain strong academic discipline is by studying something you love and the discipline gained through efforts of discovery will carry through all aspects of your life. Moreover, finding that something you love to study often occurs after a student has gotten sparked. It’s beyond gender or academic major.
Paid internships generally require two recommendations, a transcript, an essay describing how you might benefit from the internship — and, in many cases, a commitment to spend the entire summer engaged in the internship. That’s a lot of commitment for many college aged students. Commitment requires dedication to task and that, in turn, requires getting sparked.