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We ambitious Columbia and Barnard undergraduates know from experience that planning ahead is always a good thing. With New York being the center of finance, commerce, and multi-media production, it is the perfect place to kickstart your career and build connections. While it’s beneficial to start thinking about job prospects and your career path early in your college journey, be careful not to rush the process and overwhelm yourself with a commitment like an internship during your first year. It might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions when considering internships as an incoming first-year student.

Do you easily adapt to new environments?

Moving away from home and throwing yourself into a loud, chaotic, and overwhelming environment such as college is quite the change even for the most experienced traveler. If you know you’re one to need an ample amount of time to adjust to new living situations and navigate foreign social and cultural scenes, it might be wise to refrain from adding an extra responsibility during your first year at Columbia. 

That being said, if you quickly feel at home in brand new surroundings, shooting for an internship during the spring semester of your first year might just be a perfect fit. Take the fall semester to better grasp your new community, and you get a head start by applying to listings over winter break.

Will you be taking a heavy course load?

Juggling more than four or five classes, clubs, and an internship during your first year might not be the best idea. In between taking care of your health and getting enough sleep, don’t forget to take it easy on yourself as you enter this new phase of life. 

Even if you’re confident in your time management skills and your ability to pull all-nighters, be sure to plan out the classes you might want to take and how an internship during the week would fit into your schedule. Plan ahead and make sure that you will be able to carve out a big chunk of the day for your internship; they are hefty time commitments and you want to be sure that you’re setting yourself up for success.

Have you had trouble deciding what to major in?

Doing an internship can be extremely rewarding, especially if you’ve been lacking direction. Participating in real hands-on work can enhance your college experience and help you speed up the tricky process of identifying what calls to you and weeding out what does not. What’s more useful in confirming your suspicions than gaining experience with companies in fields that you’ve always been interested in? When coupled with taking a variety of classes at Columbia, an internship can give you a welcome boost in deciding what major or career path fits you the best before you have to declare during your sophomore year. You can always talk to relevant professors or advisors about internship opportunities and tips on navigating a particular industry. They’re always happy to help you and are an often underused source of career advice.

Next steps:

At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to try. If you’re feeling hesitant, there’s no harm in keeping a lookout for new internships—something might just catch your eye. There’s a grain of truth in every cliche saying, and the classic mantra “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” rings true even now. If you’ve decided that you’re ready and eager to pounce on an internship opportunity, all you’ll have to do is to get equipped with the right skillset to start applying to internships. Visit the Columbia or Barnard career centers, get your résumé checked (or start putting one together), polish your interview skills, and keep an eye out Handshake and Linkedin listings or potential professors you’d like to work for. 

It’s completely up to you to decide whether an internship during your first year at college is suitable. A majority of us who become interns don’t actually end up working the internship until sophomore or junior year, and you’ll find that besides doing an internship, a big part of discovering what you love comes from within. It is equally beneficial to spend your summer or free time picking up new skills online, reading up on research articles or novels, or creating content to build your portfolio. An internship is merely one of the many ways you can propel your career. A good alternative to doing an internship is working at a paid campus-affiliated job, which you can structure around your classes if time commitment is an issue. Head to our step-by-step guide to find out more.

Moving forward, check out Spectrum’s tips for making the most out of a visit to the Columbia Center for Career Education and Beyond Barnard, some things to note before applying for internships, our guide to using Handshake and Linkedin effectively, and last but not least, our guide to internship programs through CCE.

Staff writer Jane Mok can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

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