OPINION: Find an internship this summer. It could change your life

Price Wilborn, Commentary Editor

One thing that many people (myself included) heavily associate with college is the effort to take an internship at some point during their college career. College interns are a staple at many offices and companies around the nation and can present opportunities that can change the trajectory of a student’s life.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the communications and legislative directors at the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet in Frankfort, Kentucky, and it has changed my life.

Before I arrived on the Hill in August 2021, I had no idea what in the world it was that I wanted to do with my life after college. So many people come into college with some kind of idea about their future, but I just wasn’t sure. I came into college with a political science major, but because the program is only 36 hours, I needed to find a second major or a minor.

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The following semester, I really began trying to decide what I might want my second major to be. I talked to several different people in my life and on campus, trying to find as many opinions as I could. I was told to do economics or something in the business college. I was told to do something that interested me, so my mind went to history or legal studies.

After talking to who knows how many people and getting who knows how many different answers, I was no closer to deciding on my second major.

At the same time I was debating these decisions, an opportunity to intern somewhere in the Kentucky state government presented itself to me, and with my deep interest in government and politics, I immediately took the offer. I didn’t know where I was going to be placed, but any opportunity was going to be good enough for me.

In February or March, I got an email from someone in the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and the rest is history. Because of my experience here at the Herald, they thought I would be a good fit working with the cabinet’s communications and legislative directors.

I started not long after finishing my first semester of my freshman year. During my time at the cabinet, I got to do real work and get real experience while learning not only about what the cabinet does but how state government works. I wrote press releases and speeches, did legislative research, filled in wherever I could and got to know much of the cabinet’s executive staff. I got to visit state prisons, go to town hall meetings, visit the medical examiner’s office and so much more.

I was glad that I got to go to my internship every day and do actual work, but looking back on it, what has stuck with me the most is the opportunity I had to see firsthand how government and politics work. These are things that I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember, and that passion has only grown as I have gotten older.

Getting to see these things confirmed previous knowledge while giving me vast amounts of new information. I grew even more passionate about government and politics because I got to see how it all worked. I got to be a part of it in a way I wouldn’t have dreamed being able to do at just 19 years old.

Having this experience helped me determine what I wanted to add as my additional majors. In September of last semester, I added the history and legal studies majors. My internship helped me discover what truly mattered to me and what I want to spend my life doing, and the history and legal studies majors fit that bill perfectly.

Now, I can hear you saying, dear reader, that not everyone will have as life-changing experience as I did. Stereotypically, interns are the ones that go on coffee runs for the office and do a lot of the grunt work. They do the work that is undervalued and goes unappreciated, often for little to no pay.

That doesn’t mean that internships aren’t beneficial, though. They allow you to make connections with possible future employers while giving you the chance to see up close what your possible future profession looks like.You could come out of your internship with enthusiasm about your future or you could come out of it knowing that you want to spend your life doing something totally different, and that’s okay! That is exactly what college is for – taking the time to find out what it is that you’re passionate about. It’s better to find out that you hate the idea of spending your life doing a certain thing now than once you enter the workforce and you have thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison took a survey of 12,130 college students from 17 college campuses around the country in 2021 as part of the pilot phase of its National Survey of College Internships. The report made note of nine key findings. 

The survey found that only 21.5% of college students reported taking an internship. The report writes that “Prior studies have estimated that 50%-60% of college students have taken an internship. Our data from 12,130 students suggest that these estimates may be too high, though the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered.”

Of those that reported taking an internship, it was reported that “1 in 4 reported less than satisfactory experiences.” While 39.2% and 36.4% of respondents reported being very satisfied or extremely satisfied with their internship experience, respectively, a quarter of respondents reported “less than satisfactory experiences.”

What do these findings mean? It means that less college students are taking internships than ever before and that there is a chance that you don’t have a super great experience. What is important, though, is that you are able to get the experience and that you gave it a try. If nothing else, your internship is going to look good on a resume.

75% of respondents reported being satisfied with their internship, which means that there is a good chance that you would be, too.

Taking an internship changed my life. It showed me what I wanted to do. It helped me pick majors and reassured me that I loved what I wanted to do, and I genuinely hope that it does the same for you.

WKU has some awesome resources to help you find a perfect internship while helping you get academic credit for it. The Gordon Ford College of Business has an entire page on their website dedicated to internships. The History Department is offering a guided internship class next semester to allow students to “work with campus and community partners to gain practical field experience while exploring career paths in History!” The Mahurin Honors College and most majors that I know of offer classes that allow you to receive credit towards your major.

The opportunities are out there, you just have to find them and take them.

During my time at the Honors First-Year Orientation Retreat in August 2021, my small group counselor gave me the best piece of advice I have received to date regarding college: “take the first step.” I encourage each and every one of you to follow that advice. Find those internships and take those opportunities that not only will tremendously help you in the future but excite you and make you try new things. You won’t regret it.

Just take the first step.

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

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