Why Internships Are So Important For College Students

Sep 10, 2014

I am often asked how something like internships or careers fit into a personal finance curriculum.  My answer is:  It should be at the heart of it.  One of the keys to financial success is finding a vocation or career that you love and provide you with a level of remuneration to live the lifestyle you desire while saving for the future.  Teaching at a high school that serves its first generation students through college and career (through counseling and internship training/placement), I have seen the power of internships in helping students make the connection work and school and increase their motivational level.  What is particularly gratifying is seeing students use their internships to obtain full-time employment after college too.  NGPF is currently working on a series of lessons to assist students in this process and we hope to release by late October.  

I wanted to point readers to a number of articles that basically say the same thing:  In a challenging employment environment for young college graduates, internships are more important than ever!  From the Atlantic:  

What Employers Want

Chronicle of Higher Ed

“When employers do hire from college, the evidence suggests that academic skills are not their primary concern,” says Peter Cappelli, a Wharton professor and the author of a new paper on job skills. “Work experience is the crucial attribute that employers want even for students who have yet to work full-time.”

Tom Freidman in his NYT column today, highlights the long-term impact of internships from the perspective of the intern:

“What are the things that happen at a college or technical school that, more than anything else, produce “engaged” employees on a fulfilling career track? According to Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup’s education division, two things stand out. Successful students had one or more teachers who were mentors and took a real interest in their aspirations, and they had an internship related to what they were learning in school.” 

For those who think it is all about the school you attend you may want to shield your eyes from this revelation:

“We think it’s a big deal” where we go to college, Busteed explained to me. “But we found no difference in terms of type of institution you went to — public, private, selective or not — in long-term outcomes.How you got your college education mattered most.”

The Economist provides a rationale for why internships have become so critical based on supply/demand:

“One reason is a far larger graduate labour pool. In 1970 one in ten Americans over 25 had a bachelor’s degree; now a third do. That means jobseekers need an edge.”

In terms of what employers value internships the most (based on the percentage of full-time hires that were interns), accountants were #1:


The magazine laments the rise of unpaid internships (“Unpaid internships are becoming the norm. According to NACE, they make up nearly half the internships undertaken in America.”) and how it disadvantages people who could benefit most from the experience:

“Change is slow. In the meantime internships, instead of being a foot in the door for youngsters of all backgrounds, can be a barrier to those who lack the connections to get them or the finances to forgo pay. According to a 2009 government report in Britain on widening access to professional jobs, many placement schemes are run in a way that means “employers are missing out on talented people—and talented people are missing opportunities to progress”, with negative consequences for social mobility. If internships are unpaid, “it’s likely that you’re going to limit the opportunity to young people from well-off families,” says Bernie Sanders, a left-wing senator from Vermont who is one of the very few American congressmen to pay interns.”

A future post will discuss how best to get an internship.  


About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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