As a first-year student you might be so busy figuring out your new environment and managing your academic load that the idea of preparing for a job after graduation seems ambitious to say the least. And it is ambitious. However, after you've settled into your new life, set aside some time to learn about ways of getting "relevant experience" while you're in college. "Relevant experience" is the phrase on job applications that can cause an unprepared college graduate cold sweats and heart palpitations; without relevant experience, it's difficult to get even an entry-level job in one's chosen field.

Educational employment can help you gain experience while you're pursuing your degree. The most common kind of educational employment is the internship, but there are many other options available, including part-time jobs, volunteering, externships, and work-study. All educational employment is valuable: it adds to your experience and confidence, bolsters your resume, and positions you to find a job right out of school. In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students with internships are more likely to be offered a job upon graduation and more likely to be offered a higher salary than their counterparts who did not do internships.

This chapter will

  • provide an overview of the different types of educational employment available
  • recommend ways to find educational employment opportunities
  • discuss the benefits of networking
  • give tips on finding a good fit with educational employment

Types of Educational Employment

Sure, you want to have a knock-out resume when you hit the workforce as a new graduate. But educational employment is about more than adding bullet points to the "relevant experience" section of those job applications. It's also about learning what interests you and what your strengths and weaknesses are. The most valuable aspect of some internships is that they teach you the ins and outs of a particular field—and sometimes you learn that you don't actually want a future in that field. You can get some amazing hands-on experience while you're in school. Here are some of the options:

Internships are short-term employment assignments during which you receive valuable hands-on training and experience in a career. Some internships last a college term, while others may be a year long or take place during summer break. Some colleges actually coordinate internships for students, placing students with a particular company or organization and awarding college credit for the completed internship. Usually you have to pay tuition for this kind of internship and you may have to complete a project at the end of the experience. Other internships are an agreement between the organization and the student. Students do not receive any college credit for these kinds of internships and do not have to pay any tuition. Some internships are paid positions.

Cooperative Education
Similar to internships, cooperative education programs give students a chance to apply their college learning by working in their chosen field. The student, college, and company/organization agree on the scope of the work the student will do. Often, students get paid for their cooperative education work. They also have course work and classes associated with their work experience.

An externship is a mini-internship. During an externship a student spends
a brief period of time, perhaps a day or a week, following an employee of a business or organization through his or her workday. Externships give students a quick view of a career and the types of tasks and challenges one encounters on a daily basis in that career. Many college students complete externships during school breaks.

Many college students volunteer because they enjoy it and they are committed to supporting a worthy cause. Volunteering can also be a great way to get hands-on experience in the field of your choice. For example, if you are interested in working in education, you might volunteer for an after-school program or as a tutor. If you are interested in pursuing a medical career, volunteering at a hospital or medical clinic would be fulfilling and give you valuable real-world training.

Summer and Part-time Jobs
Most college students work at some time during the year anyway, so it makes sense to choose jobs that give you experience in your chosen field. Lifeguarding may be fun and active, but working for a local law firm would be more valuable for a student interested in pursuing a law degree.

Work Study
You may be able to find valuable work experience without ever leaving campus. Many colleges offer work-study programs in which students work in order to subsidize their tuition and other expenses. Talk with your advisor and your school's employment office to see if there are opportunities that would be relevant to your career choice. For example, if you are thinking about a career in science, perhaps there is a lab assistant position available in your school's science department.

Finding Educational Employment Opportunities

Your college probably offers all sorts of educational employment opportunities, both on campus and with companies and organizations that have developed relationships with the college. However, such positions can be quite competitive and hard to come by. Oftentimes, to secure the perfect educational employment, you will have to do your own legwork. Here's how:

Get to Know Your Instructors
College instructors often have the best information about internships and other opportunities because they have established relationships with business owners and leaders in the community. Ask your instructors if they know of any opportunities they would recommend.

Visit the Career Center
Your campus career center is not just for post-graduation job opportunities. In fact, it's a good idea to visit the career center early in your first year, as it will probably have resources to help you map out your major and career plans. It's the go-to place to find out about internships, events, workshops, and employer information sessions.

Check the Alumni Center
Your college alumni center probably maintains a database of alumni with information about their professions. See if your alumni center will furnish you with a list of alumni who work in your desired career and who might be willing to speak with you about opportunities. Even if the alumni you talk with don't end up knowing of an appropriate educational employment opportunity for you, they would probably be willing to give you recommendations or advice.

Pick Up the Phone
Find local business and organizations relevant to your career choice. Research the ones that most interest you, then call their human resources department to ask if there are any educational employment opportunities available.

Check Professional and Trade Associations
Professional associations and clubs often help their member businesses and organizations find quality candidates for internships, volunteer positions, and part-time work listings. Even if the association does not currently have a lead on an educational employment opportunity, it might give you contact information for a company that does.

As is the case with post-college employment, networking is essential to finding a position. Talk with family, friends, and contacts who might have a connec- tion—or who might know someone who has a connection—to the industry or organization you're trying to break into.

More on Networking

The role of networking can't be overstated when we talk about locating opportu- nities and jobs. At this point in your life you don't necessarily need a lot of highpowered contacts. Just take time to connect with people—instructors, other students, community members. Your network is simply all the people you know. In college you will probably expand your network exponentially. Connecting with others will make your college years more interesting and fulfilling. Your network will also be a means to find out information (about great restaurants, the best mechanics, and job opportunities, for instance) and to get your name out.

Now is a good time to reflect on your use of social media, which can be a great way to network—or can lead to a complete disaster. Assume professors and potential employers will be able to see everything on your Facebook page; "privacy" settings do not guarantee you privacy, and plenty of people have found out the hard way that employers and colleges can gain access fairly easily. Make sure the image you're projecting in cyberspace isn't detrimental to your current reputation or future prospects.

Finding a Good Fit

Your time is at a premium and the last thing you want to do is to commit to something that ends up being a worthless experience. Sure, you can expect some drudgery in an internship or cooperative education job, but it should also help you hone your skills and expand your understanding of the field. Before you accept an educational employment position, ask yourself these key questions:

  • Will this position help me develop the skills and experience I will need to land the job I want after college?
  • Do I fully understand the job description and expectations? Can I fulfill them?
  • What kinds of projects will I be working on? What have previous students worked on and what were their results?
  • What have other students experienced in this company or organization?
  • What kind of compensation will I be receiving? If it's not financial, will I be receiving educational credit or valuable work experience?
  • What kinds of expenses might I incur if I accept this position? Will I need to pay for transportation costs? Will I need to get a new wardrobe?

Educational Employment Exercises 

  1. Visit your college's career services center and the alumni office—or their web pages—to locate internship and other educational employ- ment opportunities. Which postings most interest you?
  2. Discuss educational employment opportunities with your advisor: What types of placements have other students received? What kinds of positions would he/she recommend for you? What kinds of prerequi- sites are there for getting the kinds of placements you would like?
  3. Research businesses and organizations in your community that you might be able to volunteer for or internship with in the future. What are their requirements or expectations for volunteers and interns?


for more resources and exercises.