December begins soon, and in addition to cinnamon and nutmeg, the sweet scent of internships is in the air. The path to an internship can be long and winding for those of us who don’t finish our first semester of college with a clean set of A’s, or who realize they have an interest in an area late in their undergraduate years. Those who cannot break into the field will find it harder and harder to secure their first internship when competing for spots with those who have more experience. The gap only widens each year.
The good news is that if you are genuinely interested in an area, you can make it happen. What makes this possible is effort, effort, and more effort. It’s worth spending hours Googling for opportunities and contacts. It’s worth going out of your way to ask about internship opportunities (in a professional manner) from faculty, advisors, alumni, even programs that reject you. Because an open application advertised online often receives dozens of applications for a few spots, what many evaluators must do is sort applicants by grade point average and previous experience. This is not to say that these well-publicized applications are not worth applying to – just be aware that many internships are filled (or even created) in a less formal way. In any case, be prepared to find recommenders who know you well enough through classes or work and ask them well in advance if they can write you a strong letter. Specify the due dates. Many deadlines are in December and January, so you can start asking as early as possible while beginning to draft your application materials. There are two things I would consider while making a list of places to apply.
How many people can really recommend you strongly, in a way that shows you are prepared for their program? These recommenders should not be professors from a subject unrelated to the program. Rather, they should be recent professors who know your promise well from relevant classes or supervisors from jobs who can comment on your enthusiasm and go-getter nature, though the former is preferable. If an application asks for three letters of recommendation and you can honestly only think of two strong recommenders, skip and move on. There are many opportunities out there, and it’s not worth wasting a third recommender’s time for the lukewarm letter they are forced to write for you. The only exception to this guideline may be portfolio-based applications, such as art programs.
Figuring out how much to budget
Application fees can cost as much as $100, depending on the institution. In my case, this was one of the factors which decided whether or not I would apply to a program. Draw up a spreadsheet and you’ll be able to compare programs at a glance. You may also consider how much a program will pay you – some programs can afford to disburse a large stipend, others only provide housing, but you should always make sure you have food, housing, and emergency funds. Programs which ask you to pay a hefty amount are generally inadvisable unless you’ll receive some sort of transferable credits.
And with that, you are on your way to securing an internship! Make sure you send your recommenders a short and friendly reminder one week before the deadline or confirm with them verbally. I advise submitting at least a day early just in case the process does not go smoothly – there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than realizing you forgot to submit one final form on your application and you’re now a day late (though in that case, do call the office associated with the program to explain your situation). Lastly, make sure your recommenders receive a simple thank you email or note so they’ll know they made the right choice recommending you!