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Internships can be a great opportunity, but look before you leap

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With Summer not far away, the thoughts of many sophomores and juniors will soon be turning to summer employment in internships that can help prepare them for life after college.

Internships, both in the summer and during the school year, can be a great opportunity to get your feet wet in a career or industry that you are considering for post-graduation employment.  With many entry-level job descriptions requesting previous experience in the field, internships have become the essential bridge between college studies and career.  You can even use a summer internship in place of a summer job (if it is paid) or earn academic credit in between semesters.

However, not all internships are created equal.  Some are paid while some are unpaid, and some will qualify for academic credit and others will not.  Some will give you the knowledge and experience that propels you forward into a particular field (or, as equally important, teaches you that some career paths are not for you), while others will teach you little more than being sure to not put decaf in the regular coffee pot.  It's important to ask questions and know the facts before you agree to take on any internship opportunity.

Some important points:

- Paid vs. Unpaid:  Many internship opportunities at for-profit organizations are paid and can offer valuable insight into that company and industry, while compensating you at an entry-level wage for your work.  However, some internships at for-profits, and many at not-for-profits, are unpaid and, in the case of not-for-profits, officially considered volunteer work.  According to the federal Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act (see here for more info), unpaid internships at for-profit organizations should be primarily educational and for the benefit of the intern, and should not displace entry-level employees or be of immediate benefit to employer (they shouldn't be directly making money off of your work if you are not being paid).

- Academic Credit:  Internships can provide you with academic credit and serve as the experiential component of your Simmons education.  However, it is important to understand that it is your academic department (i.e., your major) that determines whether an internship is eligible for academic credit, not your employer.  Often, internships for academic credit involve an educational component (such as keeping a journal of activities or attending a bi-weekly class, such as the Humanities 370 class lead by Career Education Center career coaches) in tandem with the work of the actual internship.  If you are interested in receiving academic credit from your internship work, check with your department on the requirements for internship credit before accepting an internship opportunity.

- Know Your Field:  Just not all internships are created equal, neither are all fields of employment.  Some expect little to no internship experience, while others may require not only internship experience during your college years but beyond, sometimes at little or no pay.  This can be particularly true in creative or artistic fields such as film and media.  It is important to see an internship as part of your ongoing research into a career field, but be sure that your research doesn't start (or end) with obtaining and completing an internship.

Want to know some of the best ways to learn as much as you can about internship opportunities?  Meet with one of our career coaches to discuss your interests and to find out more about possible ways to research the internship you want to land.  You can also visit our CareerLink website for listings of internships (as well as full-time and part-time jobs) from employers that are specifically looking to hire Simmons students. We offer extensive information on researching internships on our CEC website.

But the best resource of all is your fellow students - ask friends and acquaintances about their internship experiences, particularly if they are interested in the same field or are in the same major as you.  To make this resource (the knowledge of your fellow students) more accessible, the CEC and Simmons Technology have launched the Peer Internship Network.  Check it out to find a convenient way to connect with fellow Simmons students and recent alums and see what they have to say about the the internships that they've done.