Get with the Program: Internships, Work-Study, and Service Learning

One of the better ways to find a job that in some way connects to your field of study is through an internship, co-op (work-study) job, or service-learning program. Each type offers great opportunities to learn more about a potential career, gain hands-on experience, and begin forming that all-important network of people who can help you further your career.

These positions are also great ways to

  • Test drive not only a job, but also the type of work environment in which you'd like to be.
  • Get to know and understand job opportunities available in your field.
  • Learn about an organization and its culture.
  • Determine how your education applies to real-life situations and issues.
  • Add an attractive credential to your résumé for your next educational step or for employment.

Internships

Many businesses, not-for-profit agencies, and educational institutions offer internships for interested students. An internship is a  supervised position that will give you on-the-job training and experience in a particular field while allowing you to earn course credit for the internship. As an intern, you have an assigned mentor at work and usually a faculty member who supervises your internship to make sure you're doing meaningful work. Most internships are unpaid, but don't pass up the opportunity for lack of payment.

Cooperative-education programs

"Learn and earn" best summarizes this type of work-study program, often referred to as "co-op." You'll get credit toward your coursework at the same time that you are earning money working at a job related to your field of study. Co-op is a great way to get practical experience you need, especially in a technical field, while you're still in school. Some schools even make co-op a requirement for graduation, because you're going to be expected to perform once you get on the job.

Depending on your program, you may work while you attend classes, or you might alternate semesters working and studying.

Service-learning programs

Service learning links what you learn in the classroom to your work as a volunteer helping to address real needs in your community. Its goals are for you to learn by putting ideas into action, gain work-related skills, and to become an informed and productive citizen. You'll be applying what you learn in class to issues that your community faces, such as literacy, poverty, or environmental issues.

You can take courses that include service learning as a component, or — at some colleges — take it as an independent module with faculty supervision. Either way, you earn course credit, perform a specified amount of service work (it could be a one-time event or work spread over the semester or longer), do regular assignments, plus write a reflective essay about your experience as part of the course requirements.

Finding a position

One way to start searching for an internship, co-op, or service position is to get to know your professors. After all, they know the field and have established contacts. Other good opportunities include work as an undergraduate teaching assistant, grader, or a tutor. Not all schools offer all positions, and the compensation can range from a minimal stipend to a regular paycheck to tuition reimbursement. To find out how it works, you'll have to ask around — which itself can help open doors.

You can also check out your school's career development office, which is a great resource for job leads, resume-builders, interviewing how-to's, and more.

Remember to talk to upperclassmen to see how they found jobs to complement their studies. Also, be active in student organizations related to your field of study. Recruiters often appeal directly to these organizations because they know that the membership is filled with students who are passionate about the field.