As a Marketing/Business major, I have repeatedly been told about the importance of gaining experience through an internship before graduation. However, I know a lot of people in other majors or who haven’t thought much about life after graduation who still don’t understand how necessary this experience can be to your future success. The thing is, gaining valuable and relevant experience sets you apart from so many other people applying for the same positions because it shows that, even though you’re just getting out of college, you have real-world experience. Companies love to hire recent graduates who already know the industry and who require less training because it saves them time and money, plus internship experience shows them evidence that you have the skills and abilities to do the job.

That being said, not all internships are one in the same. We’ve all heard the joke that interns are only good for making copies and getting coffee for their bosses. While I’m sure some internships are this way, there are plenty of internships out there that offer valuable experience to get your feet wet and work on real projects related to your area of study. For instance, I had a Marketing Internship this summer with a start-up technology company, Hughes Telematics, Inc., where I was able to get hands-on experience in brand management, event planning, marketing research, and public relations. Rather than making copies or answering the phone, I went on site visits and planned a conference and I wrote the content for an iPhone app that was just released a few weeks ago. Because of this experience, I am able to show and tell prospective employers what I have done and I have evidence to back up my claims. Make sure you think about these things during your internship search–ask questions during your interviews about what kind of work you’ll be doing to determine just how much experience you’ll be able to gain from the position.

For those of you who are trying to decide between working during your summer break or studying abroad, it does not have to be an either/or decision! I have a few friends who were able to intern abroad in London over their summer vacation and they’ve all said it was the best experience of their lives. Contact the UGA Study Abroad office to get more information on these programs and find an internship in the field you want to go into in a country you’d love to travel to!

Additionally, not all internships are unpaid. I would strongly encourage including unpaid internships in your search because they can give you very valuable work experience while helping the company out tremendously. However, if this is not possible for you as you need paid work to fund your education, as was the case for me, paid internships are not impossible to find. I’d encourage you to start your search for an internship as soon as possible and keep your options open. Utilize the Career Center’s job search site, DAWGlink, to search for opportunities, talk to family friends, and visit company websites you’re interested in. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to contact Human Resources departments even if internship listings aren’t posted. After all, this is your life. Take hold of it and choose your direction.

Other resources to help you in your internship search: 4 Internship, College Recruiter, Internship Programs, Georgia Governor’s Intern Program, Intern Abroad, Magazine Publishers of America, the Career Center library, and your personal professional contacts.