- Students report feeling immense pressure to find internships for career success
- Higher-ed institutions are using technology to help, such as implementing career-oriented technology solutions
- See related article: AI has students worried about their workforce readiness
Today’s students face myriad challenges as they pursue postsecondary education, from the affordability of tuition, to student housing woes, to fierce competition for jobs after graduation. One pain point that is quickly rising on the list: internships.
Over the past several years, it appears that internships, and not just the summer before senior year, have shifted from a nice-to-have—a fun way to gain hands-on work experience in a student’s prospective career field while also earning college credits or an income—to a must-have. This shift puts additional pressures on students who feel that the path from high school, to college, to gainful employment is a high-stakes and highly competitive one.
A recent summit convened leadership across academics, finance, HR, student services, and technology from some of the world’s leading research institutions. Students from the University of Texas at Austin were also on hand to share their thoughts on the current state of internships, and what institutions can do to set students up for success.
Students were candid about the stresses they face in trying to prepare for the job market after graduation. For example, many of the University of Texas at Austin student panelists remarked that it seems like almost every entry-level job requires previous, relevant work experience, and it’s nearly impossible to qualify for these jobs without at least one internship under their belt. As a result, many students push themselves to complete multiple internships in order to compete for jobs out of school, despite many of them working part-time jobs during school to alleviate financial pressures.
One of the UT Austin student panelists noted: “The tremendous stress of finding internships is evident in my classes every day. It’s not uncommon to see students updating their resumes or searching internship applications on their laptops instead of taking notes on the lecture. There are also many hours spent every week on applying, interviewing, networking, and improving our portfolios to keep up with the extremely competitive nature of getting an internship.”
Most higher education institutions acknowledge that there is more that they can do to help students feel confident and prepared to enter the workforce—hopefully in their chosen career field—upon graduation.
Several colleges and universities are now leveraging technology and tools to help them provide better resources for students in this area. For example, some institutions have implemented intuitive degree finder systems that not only help students find the major that could be the right fit for them, but that also provide information on what types of jobs and salaries they can expect to get with a their degree.
Schools are also utilizing more technology to help students use self-serve tools to track their degree progress and access which classes they need to take and when they are available. While this is an important step to helping students be more career ready, institutions should also be looking for ways to facilitate and improve the internship experience for students.
Student panelists shared that they see internships as a “proof of concept” for their potential employers – a way for employers to ensure that new hires can handle their new role. Many of the students feel entry-level jobs are less willing to teach and more concerned with tangible skills, so they need to get the most out of internships to ensure a smooth transition from student to employee. One way in which universities can meet this expectation is by offering career success courses during senior year – or even earlier, students say, and making these courses widely available. Institutions can take this a step further by designing courses that focus on applying for internships. In fact, several universities have begun to design courses that teach students how to build their brand and market their skills. Some universities are also figuring out ways to offer experiential services, which include things such as internship placements and study abroad programs, at a more affordable and accessible rate for students. Implementing career-oriented technology solutions into student self-service portals, such as automated tools to help create resumes and internship locators, are some areas that we are likely to see institutions innovating on in the near future.
To truly meet students where they are, higher education institutions must look beyond graduation goals and invest in the tools and programs to help students succeed after graduation. In many ways, making the link between academic study and professional development more explicit is important part of this effort. And reassessing how students find, and complete, internships is one of the most important steps to ensure student success beyond the campus gates.
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