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Finding an Internship

Completing an internship during your degree program is often a great way to get hands-on experience in a structured learning environment While some lucky students (or unlucky, depending on how you view it….) are automatically placed into internships by their programs, most students must take some initiative if they want to find an internship before graduating.

If your program has an internship course:

Many schools that offer internship programs or courses have requirements for those courses. For example, some require that you complete your core coursework (and have a grade average of a ‘B’ or higher) to participate. Others want you to work with the instructor to secure a placement before actually enrolling in the course. Some programs only allow internships for seniors; others include younger students as well. Be sure to start early and examine the requirements for your programideally, at least a year before you’re thinking of doing an internship. Knowing the requirements helps you plan ahead and ensure you will be able to participate when the appropriate time comes.

In addition to researching your school’s system for internships, you should investigate potential placement sites. Your school may have a list of potential sites to select from and/or encourage you to find your own site. Either way, you’ll need to do some thinking about what type of experience you’re looking for and what sites have to offer. If possible, talk with other students who have completed internships. Ask what they liked, what they didn’t, and what suggestions they have for you as you’re getting started.   Some departments even keep files on potential placement sites with feedback from former interns. These files are full of information that you should definitely review before applying.

A final note: take it seriously. Applying for an internship often follows the same application and interview process as applying for a job. You shouldn’t apply for a job you don’t want and the same applies to an internship. Be informed about the organization you’re applying to, what the position entails, and what you hope to get from the experience.

If your program does not have an internship course:

  • Start with your advisor. Tell him/her about your interest and see if they know of any contacts. They will likely refer you to someone in the community or another person in the department who can help.
  • Find out what organizations exist in your area. For example, if you’re interested in working with children, do a general online search for child care or afterschool programs in your town. Look in the yellow pages (yes, a real, paper phonebook!) to see what businesses/organizations exist. Make a list of the organizations that seem to fit your general interest.
  • Research, research, research. Most of these organizations are going to have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest page, etc,. Find out their mission, goals, type of services provided, their clientele, and so on. Cross out the ones that don’t fit your interests; circle the ones that do. Use the information that the organization has published. Don’t call an organization and ask what they do if it’s clearly posted online.
  • With your shortened list, go back to your advisor or the person s/he referred you to. Ask them if they have any contacts at these specific organizations. The best way to reach someone is often through a personal referral. If you don’t have a personal contact, that’s okay. Compose an email to the Executive Director (or person listed as the main contact), explaining your interest in an internship and ask for a time to talk to discuss the possibility.
  • Prepare for this conversation. Don’t just show up or make the phone call without putting some thought into it. Why do you want to do an internship? Why did you choose this organization? What do you have to offer? What do you hope to learn?
  • Follow up. Be sure to follow up with the person you talked with, even if you’re not interested in the position. Thank them for their time and let them know if you don’t think it’s the right fit.
  • If they are open to hiring you as an intern, make a specific work plan (see post on making the most of your internship experience).

 Additional Resources:

5 Best Websites to Find Internships – Huffington Post


About Elissa Mitchell

Elissa Thomann Mitchell has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Evansville, two Masters degrees (in Human and Community Development & Social Work) and a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Springfield in the Department of Human Services. Dr. Mitchell’s research focuses on the resilience of at-risk youth, and she is particularly interested in social support and its contributions to wellbeing.  In addition, she is interested in the personal and professional development of students, particularly in relation to internship and practicum experiences. She served as the TA/Instructor for the internship course at UIUC for three years, helping nearly sixty students secure and successfully complete their internships.


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