Students Can Ditch the Competition by Interning This Spring

Non-summer internships are less competitive, and thus may be a better option for some students.

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About 13,000 students applied for 89 positions within the ESPN summer 2011 internship program. ESPN's Susan Grouse, university relations coordinator, and Mike Boissonneault, senior director of staffing and recruiting at ESPN, say that more than 200 applications poured in each day for about eight weeks until the deadline. After several rounds of interviews, only about 0.7 percent of applicants made the cut.

Although not every summer program receives tens of thousands of applications, at most companies, it's the summer internship that's the most popular among students, as opposed to the fall, winter, or spring internships at the companies that have them.

Lauren Berger is the CEO of InternQueen.com and the Intern Queen herself, named as such for participating in 15 internships in her four years of college. Now she connects students with more than 500 employers through her website, and says that when summer internship deadlines approach, "the floodgates open."

And that's no surprise. Summer is the traditional semester for internships and seasonal jobs because it's when students usually have the longest breaks from classes and have time to work. But as the most popular semester to intern, summer is also the most competitive. Internships during the other semesters tend to receive fewer applicants and often have more flexible deadlines. The ESPN spring internship, for example, has a rolling deadline, and although Grouse could not give an exact number of applicants, she says there are typically far fewer than 13,000 who apply.

Many spring internship listings have been popping up on company websites and job boards this October, and because there's less competition for these positions, they may work better than summer programs for some students. But leaving campus during spring semester requires serious academic planning. Students are usually expected to take classes in spring, and if those classes are not taken ahead of time or scheduled for another semester, they can complicate students' graduation plans.

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Jeff Rice, executive director at the Office of Career Management at Ohio State University—Columbus's Fisher College of Business, suggests that students "[t]ake a very critical look with an academic adviser on whether or not missing that semester is going to delay your graduation.

"Let's just say that there's a class that's required for you to graduate that's only offered spring quarter. Well, you'd probably want to take it instead of the internship, or else you'd have to wait a whole extra year," Rice says.

Another factor to consider when researching any internship, especially a non-summer program, is the quality of the internship. Will students learn new skills and build connections, or will they make copies and fetch coffee? Rice says that sometimes non-summer internships are less established and receive less funding, so they're not as valuable to students.

"The summer internship programs, which are traditional, are well invested. They have mentors; they have supervisors; they have well-defined projects; they have strong managers who are providing a new experience for the students; they're offering market value compensation. And so if those metrics are in place for a fall, winter, or spring internship, then I think it's great," Rice says.

[These national universities produce the most interns.]

Students should make sure that companies' non-summer internships are as valuable as their summer programs, Rice says, and they can do so by reading the job post listing carefully and by asking the employer and past interns about the program.

Choosing an internship requires careful academic planning and research to determine if the opportunity meets students' standards, and those requirements seem to be doubly important when considering a non-summer program. But if chosen carefully, a spring internship can often provide a quality experience with far less competition. If students successfully wade through the application process and get a position, Rice—along with Grouse and Boissonneault at ESPN—has some advice on how to be a good intern.