School of life should drive internship choices

let school of life be your internshipBy the time most people reach the stage of considering an internship, logic dictates that they know what direction they're heading in, and what they want to do for a living after college.

But this isn't always the case. Students change their minds occurs more often than their parents and advisers may think (or feel comfortable with). According to Penn State's Major Decisions, " ... up to 80% of students entering college admit that they're not certain what they really want to major in, even if they've initially declared a major.'' Nearly half of all college students change their area of focus at least once.

College is a time for trying on different suits, so to speak, but given the ever-increasing costs of higher education, there exist myriad pressures for students to figure out what they want to do with their lives -- and quickly. The concept of learning for the sake of learning seems to have gone out of vogue. (Perhaps driven by economic realities, universities seem to have evolved into career factories as opposed to temples of knowledge; whether you view this as a good or bad advancement is completely subjective and perhaps a topic to be taken up with your philosophy professor.)

In the spirit of the approaching summer season, I decided to look at the concept of applying for internships purely for fun. There are a plethora of websites devoted to just that. contains links for employers catering to students who may need a break from making "big decisions.'' Its specialty is providing information about internships at resorts, outdoor settings, national parks and summer camps. A small sampling of what's on its website: opportunities at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Nevada Conservation Corps, and Northwest Service Academy, which promises that students will "work in some of the world's most pristine landscapes while gaining hands-on and leadership skills." ' Most of these are seasonal, some paid and many unpaid. But they provide great opportunities to travel and get some sun and fresh air. Maybe it's the ideal antidote after winter and spring semesters spent sequestered in the chilly gray walls of academia.

For those wanting to explore overseas travel, who also have some money to spend, the folks at have some excellent suggestions. They offer links to truly exotic intern opportunities in New Zealand, Australia, Peru, and Southeast Asia, just to name a few. They will pay some living expenses -- intercountry travel, lodging, etc. -- but the airfare to actually reach these destinations is up to the interns. A similar website,, provides a wide array of intern possibilities in Germany, Switzerland and Canada. Given that many college students, when on summer break, consider a backpacking/hostel trip, spending that time interning somewhere could literally kill two birds with one stone.

But a desire to change the view from your front window isn't always necessary to find a cool internship. Look no further than your interests. Like to read? Authors, while writing a book, often look for interns to help with proofreading, research, and whatever else makes the usually arduous process of writing easier. Author and journalist Rob Elder, whose most recent book, Last Words of the Executed has just been published, said student assistance has been key for him over the last seven years or so, and has helped students as well.

"Good writing is good writing,'' says Elder, who during his own years as a student helped to annotate and organize the personal letters of renowned author Ken Kesey. "The research skills are applicable across disciplines.''

If you're attending school in NYC or LA, Poets & Writers, Inc., offers a wide variety of seasonal and annual internships involving everything from reading submissions for magazines, tracking grant approvals, and even attending readings and performances. (Most are unpaid, however, and there are minimal requirements; choose carefully.)

Even people who are sure of their chosen careers often see life throw them curveballs. In a recent article, Northeastern University economics professor Andrew Sum says that according to federal labor statistics, over half of college graduates under 25 hold jobs for which a college degree is unnecessary. As of April 2010, the unemployment mean average was 9.9%, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. We are definitely living in precarious times.

But don't despair. Many successful people started in one field only to later excel in another that made them famous. The American poet Wallace Stevens spent most of his life as an insurance salesman in Connecticut; folk musician John Prine, along with writer Charles Bukowski, both worked for the U.S. Postal Service prior to achieving artistic renown. And President Ronald Reagan, as we all know, worked as an actor for over 30 years before entering politics.

I guess the moral of the story for the prospective intern is this: If you don't feel well-grounded, try to be well-rounded. The school you're attending may appear orderly, but the School of Life, by its very nature, is as random as the stars scattered across the sky.

Jennifer Halperin is the internship coordinator at Columbia College Chicago, and Money College's Internship Insider. Her column runs every Wednesday; send suggestions for story ideas to Jennifer at
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