Internships can benefit college students in many ways, but not every student has the means or the opportunity to work as an intern for a full summer or semester. Now, a new model has emerged that aims to bridge this gap, giving students who can’t take part in a full internship the chance to reap many of the same advantages through experiences known as “micro-internships.”

Defining micro-internships

In a micro-internship, students complete short-term professional assignments that are similar to those given to new hires or interns. Like a full internship, these projects give students valuable work experience, the chance to explore possible career paths, and opportunities to network and stand out in a competitive job market. However, micro-internships can take place year-round and typically range from five to 40 hours of work, so they fit more easily into students’ busy schedules.

At the University of Chicago, more than 500 students have signed up to take advantage of micro-internships since the university’s Micro-Metcalf Program  launched in October. Students have completed projects ranging from copy writing to lead generation to human-resource strategy for companies such as Microsoft, Comcast, and LinkedIn.

“They’re drawn to the program because micro-internships give students an opportunity to develop professional skills, build connections with employers, and get paid for their work—all in their spare time,” says Meredith Daw, executive director of career advancement for the university.

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At UChicago, micro-internships and full-time internships are complementary experiences. The Micro-Metcalf Program is a sister program of the university’s flagship Jeff Metcalf Internship Program, which provides more than 2,500 paid, substantive internships for students each year.

Starting a micro-internship program on your campus

UChicago partnered with a company called Parker Dewey to provide micro-internship experiences for its students. Parker Dewey’s platform matches students with high-quality micro-internship experiences from dozens of firms around the country.

“There are typically around 100 micro-internships available (on the platform) at any time,” says Jeffrey Moss, founder and CEO of Parker Dewey. Parker Dewey’s platform is open to students or recent graduates from any college or university. The company has relationships with about 100 higher-education institutions nationwide.

There are no costs or obligations for colleges to participate. “The only thing we ask is that the schools are not allowed to require their students to take part, as we want to ensure there is real interest to work on a micro-internship,” Moss says. The company has developed a University Toolkit that includes best practices to help institutions get the most out of micro-internships for their students.

Long-lasting benefits for students

Parker Dewey keeps 10 percent of a micro-internship’s payment as set by the client firm, and the student gets the remaining 90 percent. Upon completion of a micro-internship project, the client company can provide feedback on the student’s work. This review includes an overall rating and an evaluation of the student’s performance in five specific areas: timeliness, communication, quality, presentation, and skill level. In addition, companies can offer confidential feedback directly to the student.

Micro-internships are a logical offshoot of the “gig economy,” in which organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. Because a large majority of micro-internships are completed online, students don’t benefit from exposure to the workplace culture as they would in a full-time internship. However, advocates of micro-internships say they still offer many key advantages.

“Micro-internships are a fantastic way for students to prepare and make themselves more competitive applicants, or to try out a new career field that interests them before committing to a full-time internship (or career),” says Daw.

About the Author:

A former eCampus News editor, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience in writing about educational innovation.


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