How to squeeze the most out of your degree using internships

University and college degrees are designed to give us a broad skillset within a specific field that will enable us to pursue a variety of career paths, depending on our interests upon graduation.

As a first year student, you take on numerous modules spanning a variety of topics that you will study throughout the year and beyond. Let’s be honest, you rarely get excited about all of them, which is not a bad thing as this is how you figure out your strengths and what you enjoy most.

One thing every new graduate quickly realises, is just how different the real world is to the textbook classroom environment. It takes years to change the core curriculum in any degree, so the industry is usually a few years ahead depending on the industry and how fast it moves, e.g. Information Technology vs Medicine, which means you’re bound to experience that initial “shock” factor when you start your first job.

So let’s look at how you can make this transition smoother and help you squeeze the most out of your degree using internships. It was only in my third year in college that I decided to look for an internship. Hindsight quickly taught me that I should have done this sooner, but still this one internship changed my careers trajectory almost immediately.

Tip: Start looking at internship opportunities early on into your degree. Speak to your lecturers and use any websites or apps that can help you discover internships that are relevant to your interests and strengths. Remember, this is a chance for you to get a taste for a particular career path before making the jump.

The day I started that internship, I was exposed to the tools, practices and standards used in the industry I would be joining. I had a lot to learn but I was hungry and ready. After completing the internship, I went back to class and realised just how big an impact those few months had on me.

Tip: Once you’ve landed an internship, prepare to take notes of all the things that the mentor or team you work with consider standard. Maybe its a way the team works or a technology/service they use. The likelihood that other companies use these too is high.

The day I started that internship, I was exposed to the tools, practices and standards used in the industry I would be joining.

As I developed the proposal for my dissertation and final year project, I decided to utilise all the technologies and practices I had learned during that internship. Most of these weren’t part of my course, so I ordered a handful of books on Amazon and invested some of my time learning alongside college.

The investment paid off and I focused my learning and energy for the remainder of my degree around what the internship had opened my eyes to. Once I graduated I had developed a unique skillset that set me apart from my classmates but more importantly I had identified the skills that were most in demand and valuable to potential employers, that allowed me to graduate prepared and ready for the real world.

Had I not done an internship during college I may never have bridged the gap between college and the industry and I may have gone down a different and less favourable path in the long term.

Tip: Not only can an internship be incredibly fruitful in helping you focus your learning before you graduate, but it may very well be the door to your graduate job. The value is in finding not just any internship, but the right internship for you.

As a student you have many opportunities to seek an internship during your studies. The earlier you start looking the sooner you can narrow your focus. So get out there and find your next internship.

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