Many of you have asked us whether it’s wise to get an internship your first semester at Barnumbia. Between classes, popping in and out of interest meetings to find which clubs suit you, and making friends with new people, adding a job or internship to your load if you do not absolutely have to may not always be advisable. Here are some key questions to ask yourself before you make the commitment.
Q. Do most first-years get internships their first semester?
Many students have work-study as a part of their financial aid packages, so plenty of your peers have on-campus jobs. However, the number of first-years who decide to pursue internships related to their interests is pretty small.
That’s not to say that no first-years take the leap and snag themselves an internship immediately, or that managing school, work, and play is impossible. But keep in mind that Columbia does not offer academic credit for internships, so being able to do an internship on top of managing a full course load and any other commitments will make for a busy schedule. Not to mention that many internships, especially in the humanities and social sciences, are unpaid, so you may find yourself deciding between a paying job and a more interesting but unpaid internship.
In fact, it’s worth noting that the decision to get an internship (in your first year or at any point in your college career) also depends on your major and future career plans. Some fields require a lot of experience before they’ll hire you to take on a full-time job, while others are more interested in the skills you’ve learned in the classroom. Additionally, for those of you who are thinking of going into academia, you’ll face less pressure to gain “real-world” work experience right away. In short: You should meet with your adviser, career counselor, and/or mentors to figure out what’s best for you before you take or reject any internships.
Q. How many hours would I generally have to work if I got an internship?
Different employers will have different work requirements for their employees, but you can expect that a company will want their intern to work no less than five hours per week and no more than 20 (most student interns spend between 10 and 15 hours per week on their job). If you apply for a job through Columbia’s LionSHARE or Barnard’s NACELink (the official job-searching databases used by each school’s career development offices), you’ll be able to see the number of hours the employer wants their interns to work every week. That way, you can decide whether your schedule will allow you to make the time sacrifice before you apply.
If you’re working around 10 hours per week though, that is 10 extra hours that you will not be able to spend on school work, with your friends, relaxing, or sleeping. Ten hours may not seem like a lot now (it’s a little less than 1.5 hours per day of “you time”), but you may be thinking differently once midterms roll around.
On the other hand, companies are aware that they are hiring student interns whose main priority will be school. Depending on the kind of internship you go for, your employer may understand if you ask for a little less work during midterm or finals week so you can focus on your academics.
Q. I feel like I have to pick between getting a job and joining a club I’m interested in. What is more important?
You’ll probably sign up for a lot of clubs and social groups at the activities fair. Even though you’ll only stick with two or three of them, that’s still a few hours a week of your time. Being a part of a campus group does not inherently mean that you’ll be unable to juggle a job as well, but it does make your schedule significantly tighter.
The answer to “Which is more important: clubs or jobs?” depends on what your priorities are, but we will say this: Getting involved in campus groups is an important step in finding a sense of community away from home. Feeling like you belong at Barnumbia, like you have people and places to go to, is crucial to having an enjoyable college experience. For first-semester students, we’d say establishing this feeling of community should take priority over your professional goals—learn how to effectively handle being away from home on top of your school and social commitments before you branch out into the “real world” of internships. After all, you will still have the summer to snag a coveted internship to help you reach your professional goals.
Q. What about my time management skills? I’m really good at not/really bad at procrastinating.
Like we said, your first semester at Columbia is going to be a balancing act of managing school life, social life, finding time to relax, and your job if you decide to throw that into the mix. It goes without saying that you’ll need to be pretty good at time/task management if you want to be successful in college and in your internship.
If you were an ultra-procrastinator in high school, don’t be discouraged—while the people who were able to successfully balance several things (captain of the basketball team, editor of the newspaper, solid 3.8 GPA, etc.) without frequently getting overwhelmed have the upper hand and may be more internship-ready,* that doesn’t mean you’re banished from the promised land of jobs and networking opportunities. Hold back for at least the first semester if you think you’ll easily get overwhelmed by these new responsibilities. Use the time to get adjusted to college life and build up your time management skills. (By the way, here are three students’ methods for overcoming procrastination.)
*Important note: A majority of incoming CU/BC students could fit the profile of “captain of the basketball team, editor of the newspaper, solid 3.8 GPA, etc.,” but that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to fit that profile in college. Even if that description sounds like you, don’t assume that you’ll be able to commit to as many activities as you could in high school.
Q. Can this wait until my second semester?
Waiting until your second semester (or second year) to take on an internship will allow you to get more acclimated to college life—you’d be surprised how much a person can mature in just six months. By the time the spring semester rolls around in late January, your ability to handle what Columbia has to throw at you—essays, dozens and dozens of pages of Lit Hum reading, last-minute club meetings, a touch of homesickness—will have improved because you’ll already have one semester of experience under your belt.
Another plus: Waiting until your second semester to apply for an internship will give you more time to boost your resume. Had a teacher you really clicked with? Ask if you can put them as a reference. Joined a club that helped you develop a specific skill? Elaborate on it during your interview.
Why should I get an internship my first semester?
- Internships are rewarding experiences—they’ll be among your first opportunities to network, build your resume, and explore career interests.
- Many companies will understand if you ask for less work the week of midterms and finals. (Make sure you ask a current intern at that company about this, though.)
- Paid internships can give you a little extra spending money.
Why shouldn’t I get an internship my first semester?
- It’s more important to establish a feeling of community and acclimate to Columbia before you try to advance your professional ambitions.
- You won’t get course credit for internships.
- Interns work around 10-15 hours per week (some more, some less), which means you’ll have 10-15 fewer hours to spend on yourself.
- Because you’re adding another major responsibility to your load, you may be asked to make sacrifices, whether it be by not joining a club you’re really interested in, declining your friends’ invites to hang out on the weekends, or burning the midnight oil multiple times per week.
- You have three more years to get an internship—nothing and no one is going anywhere, so what’s the harm in waiting?
Living in the Big Apple, you might be tempted to jump right into that #internlife, but getting adjusted to that #collegelife first is more important. Don’t worry—you still have three more years to make your mark. And don’t forget summer internships are a thing, too—in fact, you’ll still be able to get plenty of experience if you never take an internship during the academic year.
- You’ve weighed the pros and cons and you’ve come to a decision: You want that first-year internship. Here are your step-by-step instructions to getting it.
- Looking for a work-study job? Here’s how you can find and apply to the best of them.
- CU/BC student looking for a job? Here’s how you can navigate LionSHARE/NACELink, Columbia/Barnard’s official job-searching database.
- First impressions are everything. Here’s how you can make yours at Columbia and Barnard’s fall career fair.
Isabella Monaco is a Spectrum staff writer and Barnard sophomore. Her internship is ghosting her. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veronica Grace Taleon is Spectrum’s editor and a Barnard junior. She waited until sophomore year to get an internship and everything turned out just fine. Reach her at email@example.com.