Getting an internship after college isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind after completing four years of intense studying. You’re probably exhausted and might be recovering your mental health after the stress of final exams and assignments.
But plenty of grads can’t get a job after college, leading them to look at internships to improve their resumes enough to earn a full-time position.
Can you intern after college?
Yes. It’s entirely possible to get an internship after college. In fact, 31% of all students who land an internship do so after graduating from college, according to Chegg Internships.
Just take a look at this bar graph below. Even though most students join internships during college, plenty of people start one afterward—even six years after wearing their cap and gown. If you’re considering one for yourself then don’t worry about having missed the boat. It’s a natural direction when deciding what to do after college.
My experience has shown me that employers generally don’t see much of a difference between a fresh graduate and a third- or fourth-year student. In technical fields that can make a world of difference, but for non-technical disciplines it’s a somewhat level playing field.
Every company has its own policy on internships, though, so you’ll need to check to make sure that the ones you want to join do actually accommodate recent grads.
The reason most new grads struggle to find internships (and jobs) is that they don’t have the skills, experience, or the profile to qualify. Learning how to get a job after college takes strategy, perseverance, and a playbook that most parents and professors just don’t know.
In fact, it takes fresh graduates an average of 7.4 months to find a job. Compared to a pile of rejections over 7+ months, getting an internship after college can seem appealing.
Should you get an internship after college, though?
We’re often told that internships are natural stepping stones to full-time jobs—and it often can be—but that’s not always true. Internships come in all kinds of arrangements, with some of them being good and plenty being weak opportunities.
With 53% of recent graduates being unemployed or underemployed, however, it can be a good idea in some circumstances, even if it’s unpaid (more on that below).
You want to acquire real work experience from an internship, not to become a glorified coffee runner, of course.
There’s good news on that front: the research suggests that graduates who pursue internships do see benefits, both for their job searches and for their long-term career development, including liberal arts graduates. That data suggests that an internship will bring more benefits than taking a gap year after college.
- They find paying jobs faster.
- They earn higher salaries in their next job.
- They earn higher scores in subjective assessments.
“Whether or not one has an internship (regardless of compensation) does impact short-term and longer-term career success. Survey takers who completed at least one internship received a job offer more quickly and had a higher first-position salary than those who did not. Those with an internship had current annual salaries $2,082 higher than those with no internships. These individuals also had higher subjective career success scores.”
The data on paid internships
If you can find a paid internship, then you’ll be statistically likely to make a little over minimum wage. Indeed’s internal data shows that the average intern wage is $14 per hour as of May 2021.
That’s considerably lower than the average salary after college, but it’s not unrealistic for a role where you’re being taught and trained as part of the arrangement.
Here’s the rub with internships, though: approximately 43% of internships don’t pay anything, according to the Washington Post and the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
That average is a little bit skewed, though. The Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions shows that attending a certain kind of college can drastically affect your chances of landing a paid internship.
Most notably, institutions that correlate with paid internships are historically black colleges and universities and technical colleges, while predominantly white institutions have a much lower correlation.
Specifically, the study noted that interns attending historically black institutions and technical colleges have approximately a 75% chance to land a paid internship, while students from predominantly white institutions only have a 55% chance to land a paid internship.
Pro tip: If you take an unpaid internship, then consider living at home after college to cut down your living costs in order to make it work (if possible).
Unpaid internships are still valuable for building experience and references, as you read above; grads with unpaid internship experience outperform grads without it in the several years following graduation.
That comes down to two dominant ingredients, though:
- Work experience with related results.
Those are absolutely essential in landing the best jobs after college, but an internship isn’t the only path to acquire them. You can also create your own projects to earn the relevant experience and the references through freelance work, passion projects, and volunteer work.
You need a paying job. Working full-time for 3-9 months without a penny to show for it might not be an option for you, especially if you have even an average debt after college.
If you’re in that boat then you need something to help you land a real job sooner than a 6-month internship.
Finding an internship after college
If you think an internship is the right next step for you, then I have good news for you. The offer rate for internships is pretty high, and it has only risen higher in 2021.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the offer rate for internships across the United States has risen to 79.9%, the highest it’s ever been in recent memory.
Here’s the internship offer rate by year:
- 2014: 64.8%
- 2015: 58.9%
- 2016: 72.7%
- 2017: 67.1%
- 2018: 59%
- 2019: 70.4%
- 2020: 68%
- 2021: 79.9%
That’s quite a jump in 2021, isn’t it? Businesses need help in the pandemic, apparently, and it’s no surprise. It might also mean that the increase in offers could be a need for unpaid internships, though, so please keep that in mind if you’re searching for one.
Where can you actually start a conversation about internships, though? Start with these leads.
- Your school’s career counselling staff
- Career fairs
- Networking with friends and family (and your friends’ parents)
- Local career centers (an underrated resource!)
Check out these websites that specialize in finding internships as well:
Pro tip: Read our piece on what your resume should look like after college to improve your chances of getting a bona fide offer!
Doing an internship after college
Actually getting through the internship isn’t all that big of a deal, as it’s just like regular work. You’ll need to transition from thinking like an academic to thinking like a professional, but every college grad does that—you will, too.
Obviously you want to make a good impression so that you can get a reference, at the very least, but you also want to get a job after the internship.
I have good news for you there, friends!
Your chances of getting a full-time job offer upon completing an internship are probably higher than you think. Research from NACE shows that 70.4% of employers offer full-time jobs to people who completed internships with them, and 80% of interns accept those offers.
In that sense, pursuing an internship is actually one of the best ways to find a job after college. It may take longer than my own 7-step job roadmap and you might not get paid, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers (so long as you can survive 6-12 months without pay).
How to make a good impression in your internship
There’s no secret formula to doing a good job at work, and taking shortcuts will only come back to bite you down the road. Performance usually comes down to these factors:
- Show up just a little bit early every day, even just by 5-10 minutes.
- Don’t be the first person to leave (if you have that luxury—not everyone does).
- Listen carefully and ask questions—don’t just nod and tune out.
- Perform well at your job, which means practicing.
- Contribute in small but meaningful ways, like documenting processes.
- Support other team members however you can to become the office’s “team player.”
- Have small, frequent touch points to get feedback from your supervisor. These are just natural desk-side or slack conversations.
- Make an effort to understand how your actions help the business’ bottom line. It shows that you care about more than just your own position.
That’s how to succeed in your internship after college.
Pursuing an internship after college comes down to your ability to find one and if you can support yourself while participating in one. Everybody needs money to live, so it will pay off to figure out if the internships available to you are worth your time. Talk through it with people you trust and create a plan from there.