Everyone Goes at Their Own Pace: Navigating How Many Internships You Should Do Throughout College

How many internships should you do throughout college? The simple answer is, on average, undergraduate students complete two internships during their time at Boston University.

The much more complicated answer, to borrow the favorite phrase of data analysts, is “it depends.” Starting with the question itself, there is nuance even in the strict definition of an “internship.” At BU, internships are just one type of many types of experiences covered under the “experiential learning” umbrella. So, what’s experiential learning?

The process of experiential learning includes internships, practicums, and pre-professional research. It even includes paid work experience, if the said experience is related to your academic coursework at BU and meets the following criteria: the experience takes place in a professional setting where many or most entry-level positions require the completion of a bachelor’s degree and year-round, full-time professional workers outnumber summer staff. The experience provides at least a moderate amount of training, skill development, responsibility, or opportunity for professional connection in a career field that you have or are currently considering pursuing.

For those of you who panicked at the first sentence, I hope this gets through to you and restores calm; two internships is the average across the entire graduating class (so, nearly 4,500 undergraduates). That in no way means that all 4.5k have completed or will complete two internships. Some complete more than average while others complete less. Some will not participate in a single internship during the entirety of their undergrad experience (see the Undergraduate Internship Experience chart below). Remember also that this stat is retrospective, covering internship experiences gained over four years (give or take a few years for some of you) and not remotely suggesting that underclassmen have already completed this many internships. So, if you were panicking again – STOP! There’s still time to benefit from this valuable experience. One final caveat – this stat covers all types of experiential learning, so included in that two-internship average are research, paid work, and practicum experiences. All these experiences, in all the variety discussed above, are of value to students and employers alike (as you will see).

Boston University Class of 2021 undergraduate internship participation chart showing share of population completing 0-6 internships

Internship participation varies across schools and programs at BU, but one thing remains consistent everywhere; it pays to participate in these experiences. Internship participants are 20% more likely to find full-time work than non-participants. The starting salary for internship participants was close to $13k larger than that of non-participants. These correlations spell good news for you, if you can take your experience and translate it, along with your transferrable skills gained, to your first role out of school.

So, if you are looking for an internship (or experiential learning opportunity) and need some advice on how to get started, look no further than the positions posted daily to Handshake. If you are still feeling stuck, schedule an Internship Advising or Career Counseling appointment with the Center for Career Development (CCD), and our staff will be glad to help you take the next step.

If you needed to work during undergrad to make ends meet or were taking too many credits to make time for an internship – or for whatever reason couldn’t make an internship happen, that’s okay too! The CCD’s staff are experts at translating skills gained from lived experiences and helping students communicate that value to employers. This is a common question that comes up so let me reiterate here – paid work experience is valuable experience! It can feel like you’ve been left behind when your peers are adding internship experiences to their resumes, but let the CCD staff help you show employers that the skills you picked up on the job are just as valuable.

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