One of the best ways to ensure employment related to your major after graduation is to spend some time gaining work experience related to your field of interest. For many college students, internships and other experiential learning opportunities result in job offers even before graduation.

Summer has increasingly become – for many college students – a time to utilize what they have learned in the classroom in the real-life lab of work. Internships are not only an opportunity to gain valuable learning outside of the classroom, but also to begin building a network that can result in job offers and references. Even if an internship doesn’t align directly with a student’s anticipated career interest, it can still help polish and develop critical skills that will be needed in order to grow as a professional.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which represents more than 7,300 college and university career service professionals and more than 3,000 university relations and recruiting professionals, has recommended the following definition of internships. “An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.”

In their May 2016, 2016 Internship and Co-op Survey report, NACE noted that the average offer rate to interns was 72.7 percent, the highest they have recorded since the peak of the pre-recession market. The report also outlined that when recruiting interns, significant factors employers look at in making their decision include a student’s field of study, high GPA, and leadership experience.

At Waubonsee, our wide variety of academic and career and technical educational offerings means that our faculty and staff have developed an impressive network of contacts to help students find meaningful internship experiences. Students in our Auto Tech programs often spend a semester working at Yellowstone National Park, servicing park vehicles. Some of our 3D Printing students can be found polishing their skills at Fermi Lab. This summer we have a student interning at Shedd Aquarium. And one of our alumni, Katie Billing, recently returned to campus for a visit and talked about how her internship at Brookfield Zoo launched a career that led to a job and career that she loves today.

Katie confirmed what many experts in career development have known for some time – doing internships in a field of study not only helps prepare a student for the workforce, but also begins to build a valuable network that often remains with that student after they graduate and continue throughout their careers. Waubonsee’s Career Development Center staff work with students interested in finding internships by helping them to locate internships, develop cover letters and resumes, and practice their interviewing skills. They also provide assistance to businesses and organizations looking to establish or promote their own internship program.

Thousands of students across the country will return to classrooms in August with deeper knowledge about their chosen fields. They’ll bring that knowledge to classroom discussions. Their network will be wider than it once was, and they might even have a job offer ready for them ahead of graduation. They’ll have quite a story to tell about what they did this summer. Those stories are a tribute to the complex network of partnerships between colleges and employers.