A mandatory experience

Undergraduates should be obligated to complete an internship prior to graduation.

by Meghan O'Connor

Whether you are an aspiring neuroscientist, mechanical engineer or fashion designer, internships should be a mandatory part of the undergraduate curriculum. 

According to 2012 statistics from the Census Bureau, more than 30 percent of American adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree. So, what are you able to do to separate yourself from your peers?

The short answer: internships. Whether they be unpaid, in your hometown or abroad, internships are critical to developing professional skills and obtaining an understanding of your desired field.

As students, we have a responsibility to ourselves to be more than just a seat holder in the classroom; we need to be active participants in our community. This is why I believe that a semester-long internship should be required for University of Minnesota students to qualify for graduation.

We’ve all heard our professors talk of “life after college” and “when you get your first job,” as they prepare us to be successful for when we step foot outside of this campus. Yet, many students will graduate and only then start to gain professional experience.

This is not only a problem for the individual — who more than likely will struggle to find a job directly out of college — but it poses an issue for future employers. Employers seek graduates with a bearing for the field.

Certainly, the implementation for internships across all majors and in all departments is a bit advantageous. Some programs would prove to be more difficult in the structuring piece. Take, for example, any one of the science-oriented majors. Under such circumstances it would fall to the department to sort out the best way to go about getting students hands-on experience.

This may be a course designed and modeled around a simulated work environment that you may encounter. It may be a preparation course, helping to vamp up your résumé, simulate the interview process, bringing in professionals from the field to give advice and offer assistance. These experiences are key. Once one lands an internship, it can also be a way for students to weed out possible career paths. By really getting in the realm of work you would be doing, it can be very telling as to whether you are suited to that major or subject matter.

Not only is getting “real-world” experience beneficial for a student’s growth, but it could lead to quality contacts in the field and may even result in a job offer.

As seen in a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in 2009 employers extended job offers to nearly 70 percent of their interns. Even if a job wasn’t offered at the end, you would still walk away with a semester of experience and a handful of professional contacts in your back pocket.

I have held three internships in my field of interest. Each varying slightly but all modeled similarly. By developing a love for the environments that I have been able to work in, I am now much more eager to be successful in school, to graduate on time and to start working in my desired field.

Enacting mandatory internships for all undergraduate students would no doubt be a trying task. Faculty would have to be just as committed and involved as the students. But the word that continues to come back is “experience,” a vital token for finding success beyond our four or more years at the University.