​by Carol Montgomery (associate vice president, Career and Money Management) and Gillian Steele (director, Career Center)

Many, many internships are being posted, all the time — we’re seeing a real upswing in employment opportunities for students, and we have the data to back up a positive outlook.

In August 2012, the number of internships posted totaled 557, the highest volume for any month since January 2008. This was followed by an impressive fourth quarter of 2012 when 994 internships were posted, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2011.

This trend is good news because students who do internships — preferably more than one — have a much better chance of getting a job after graduation. In fact, because we are adamant that the internships be meaningful work, our students gain “real world” skills and experience, while employers get talented workers who can be evaluated “on the job.” 
 
As a result, we have an internship-to-job conversion rate that’s higher than the national average. Among 2012 graduates, 59 percent had done an internship; of those, 66 percent ended up with full-time employment.
 
Our approach to internships stands out for many reasons.
 
  • We offer two paths for getting an internship: through the Career Center’s University Internship Program, which includes six for-credit courses, and through departments. Ideally, a student will complete two or even three internships before he or she graduates.
  • DePaul I-Prep planner and I-Prep workshops cover the five steps to getting an internship, making it easier for students to find the right opportunities.
  • We help students find internships that are interesting to them. Since some don’t know what they want to do, we help them see the internship as a chance to explore. What’s it like to work for a small, not-for-profit or for a large corporation? Is a certain type of organization a good fit or not? Sometimes, an internship can even help a student decide for — or against — a field of study. Students gain real insights when they get their hands dirty.
  • Our “best practices” internship forum helps employers establish good internship programs. In just two years, attendance at this conference has nearly doubled. We’ve also developed an employer guide which shows the steps toward creating an experience that benefits everyone.
  • We do “quality checks” on site. Since we can’t visit every employer — there are thousands! — we select key organizations, have conversations with supervisors, and then check up on the student’s experience while it’s happening. What are the working conditions?  What kind of supervision or mentoring is the student getting? Are there opportunities to network with other people? We have very high standards.
  • We encourage employers to pay. Ten years ago, the paid/not paid ratio was 70/30; now, that’s dropped to 45/55. But students are more likely to be invested in the work if they’re paid. At the same time, with the rising cost of higher education, students have greater financial pressures. An internship is valuable to everyone, so we promote an investment in our students.
  • Our internships are tied to rigorous academics, as students satisfy the requirements for junior year experiential learning or for class credit. Either way, they read articles, do research, write a paper or create other work products (such as a resume or portfolio).

An internship is a great way for students to prepare for work, meet people, and gain the confidence they need to be competitive. The message to students is straightforward: “There are plenty of opportunities for work. You just need to take action!”