Many college students wouldn't dream of graduating without an internship -- or two -- under their belts. Some universities even require internships for certain majors. Because internships often offer little or no pay, some students must choose between an internship and a part-time job that will help them fund their college tuition. Determining the value of an internship depends on how you hope to benefit from it and whether you can reap those same benefits without an internship.
Potential for Full-Time Employment
An internship might help you secure a position after you graduate, especially if it's a paid internship. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 60 percent of 2012 college graduates who completed a paid internship received at least one offer for full-time employment. However, just 37 percent of those completing an unpaid internship received job offers, only slightly higher than the 36 percent of graduates who received offers without completing an internship. While an internship can help you find a job upon graduating, focus on it primarily as a learning experience instead of counting on it to give you an edge over other job-seekers.
The potential for networking at an internship is just as important as the experience you earn. An internship is often your first opportunity to meet people in your chosen industry, and those connections can help you later when you're applying for jobs. While you can meet people by attending conferences or networking events, an internship allows you to establish a one-on-one relationship with key people in the industry. Because you see them every day, you can benefit from their long-term advice and guidance. You can also list them as references when you apply for jobs.
If you're hoping to earn extra cash through an internship, you'll fare better taking on a part-time job. As noted by the "Wall Street Journal," a 2011 survey by recruiting and research firm Intern Bridge found that only half of internships pay. Many pay only a stipend, which may amount to significantly less than you'd earn at a job with an hourly wage. Many employers offer internships only to students receiving college credit. You'll have to pay per credit hour for the privilege of completing the internship, which could total hundreds of dollars -- all with no compensation to offset the cost. If you want to complete an internship but also need money, opt for an internship that requires only two or three days a week and use your days off to take on a part-time job. Employers won't know that you worked only a couple of days a week, and they will care more about what you learned than how many hours you logged.
What internships lack in pay they often make up for in the knowledge and experience that they offer. Young job-seekers frequently lament the fact that they can't get a job without prior experience, but they can't gain experience until they find a job. An internship provides the experience necessary to demonstrate your skill to employers. It also gives you a hands-on look at your future career, which can differ dramatically from what you learn simply by reading textbooks and attending lectures. This real-world experience helps you determine if you're suited for the career you've chosen or if you need to rethink your plans.