4 Internship Tips for International Students in the U.S.

Talk to the international student office about any legal regulations before you look for internships.

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As an international student, network and find internships that match your career interests.
As an international student, network and find internships that match your career interests.

If you are looking for something fun, productive and possibly lucrative to do over the summer, an internship is a very good option.

As an international student, you might have to face a few hassles while looking for an internship, including preparing paperwork for the company. However, the benefits definitely outweigh the minor troubles.

An internship is a wonderful opportunity to gain experience in your field of interest, save money and network. Below is some advice about what international students should do before, during and after an internship.

[Learn how international students can spend the summer.]

1. Contact your international student services office: There are certain rules and limitations for international students regarding off-campus internships, and your international student service officers are the best people to give you information about these matters.

It might be tempting to just talk to a friend who did something similar last summer, but since the regulations may change from year to year, it is in your best interests to contact the people at your college who are professionals before you start searching for internships.

Not only can they give you a good idea about what opportunities to look for that are appropriate for international students and permitted by law, but they can also tell you what kind of paperwork you will need to fill out – helping you plan better.

[Find out how internships can lead to scholarships.]

2. Know exactly what interests you: The time you spend on your internship will likely be counted toward your Optional Practical Training time, which is limited. International students can typically work at jobs related to their educational field legally for one year. Your school's international student office will definitely give you current information about this.

Since you're using limited and valuable OPT time, it is in your best interest to find an internship that interests you and is something that you might continue doing after graduating. Spending your summer interning as, say, a party planner for a local resort might sound like loads of fun, but might not be appropriate if you are a physics major with no intention of doing anything even remotely related to event planning or hotel businesses.

This is also why talking to the international student services office before conducting an internship search is very important, as the staff can help you figure out which internships would be most appropriate. I was a math student with a strong background in economics and business, and I found an internship in actuarial consulting, which ended up being my career.

3. Learn as much as possible: Interns are expected to ask questions, learn and figure out whether the job is a good fit for you and vice versa, so you should do exactly just that!

Many companies have formal intern training programs, and most full-time workers are more than happy to answer any questions you might have about the job. I personally love to help train interns at my office, because teaching them also helps me review my professional knowledge and I enjoy interacting with eager college students.

The business world is relationship-oriented. If a company has a good impression of you while you interned there, it is much more likely to offer you a job over a candidate who simply applied online.

If you end up working full time for the company for which you interned, everything you learned during your internship will help you tremendously once you start your full-time job.

[Get more tips and advice for international students.]

4. Keep in touch: I sent a thank-you note to people in the office where I interned two weeks after my internship ended, and some of the actuaries there still remember me years later, even though I no longer work with them. I am also still very close friends with someone who was a full-time employee when I was still an intern.

My internship was a great opportunity for me to broaden my professional and personal network. I strongly advise you to seek one out as well – the relationships that you will establish might end up benefiting you many years down the road.

Tra Ho, from Vietnam, received full financial aid to attend Colorado College in 2004. She graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a degree in mathematics and is currently working as an actuary for a consulting company Washington, D.C.