This summer, thousands of young professionals will take internship opportunities working in a variety of areas in Higher Education including Housing, Orientation, Student Activities and many other departments.
This short (often 6-12 week) opportunity is a fantastic way to build your skill set and experience another campus culture. As current and former internship supervisors, we have seen some interns take full advantage of all the internship has to offer and we have seen others squander this time. This blog post isn’t about how to DO the work required in the internship, rather it’s about the mindset that we hope you will consider as you enter this opportunity.
1: This is Not Your Current Institution
You may be used to a certain way of managing processes and people and it can be quite a shock to see how different institutions value, express and execute these same functions. Fight the urge to say “Well at XYZ university, we do it this way and it works great.” We don’t care.
Not that we aren’t open to learning from other universities and potentially adopting some proven practices but you have to be open to consider why each university operates the way it does. Focus on learning and doing things their way. Plus, this is a great way to demonstrate your adaptability and flexibility as their summer employee.
2: This is a Ten Week Interview Process
You are getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase your talent and skills for a finite amount of time. The rewards from this can be enormous. Think of it as a trial run. Often, institutions will look to former interns to fill professional positions that open up in the future. Even if it is not a perfect match, you have the opportunity to add more seasoned professionals to your reference list who will be able to join the choir singing your praises to other potential employers.
On the flip side, if you are a hot mess they will not advocate for you on your behalf. Student Affairs is a small field. Don’t provide them the opportunity (and obligation) to tell other people that you were not an ideal employee during this short time frame.
3: Know Your Cohort (PS, You are Not Going to be BFF with Your Supervisor)
We get it. Coming to a new location can be daunting. Unless you are an extreme social butterfly or have a previously established network, it’s unlikely that you will be able to create a large social community in this short amount of time. We hope your supervisors and peers are providing you with some opportunities and outlets to connect on a personal level. But this doesn’t mean that it is their responsibility to be your entertainment director on the cruise that is your summer internship. They have lives, responsibilities, families or cats (you know who you are) that they have to prioritize as well.
Utilize meetup.com, connect with other interns or grads on your campus or in the local area, join a yoga studio, or find other ways to connect with people beyond just those in your immediate department.
4: Comparison is the Thief of Joy
What does this internship have to teach you? You’ll never really know if you keep comparing your experience to others.
It doesn’t matter how much money other interns make or what their housing accommodations look like. Stop longing, start living. You are in a competition with one person—yourself. Start behaving like the (graceful, grateful, confident) winner that you are!
Make the best of your situation by being “all in” and taking advantage of everything the institution and department have to offer you.
5: Stop Talking About Your Work/Life Balance (No, Really)
I won’t hire anyone who talks about balance or self-care. Stop talking about it, just DO it. Build a plan for your life and work in a way that supports and prioritizes all that you have (and want) to do.
You were selected over every other applicant. You were hired to work really freaking hard. Show them they made the right decision. They don’t need to sell you, you need to sell THEM.
The workload only gets harder and more time-consuming from here on up. Start building your own professional capacity by putting in the hours to build your skills through this experience so that you are ready for the next great opportunity.
6: Add Where You Can, But Don’t Bulldoze
You’re freaking smart. That’s why you were hired. We encourage you to offer ideas and perspectives. It keeps us on our toes and it’s OK to ask questions about why things are done the way they are.
What’s not acceptable is coming in and telling the school what to do and how to do it. Beyond August, you won't be there to manage these programs or pick up the pieces, so don’t tell them how they should run their department. Write down the things you like, the ways you might do some pieces differently and think about how and why it works (or doesn’t?) for that institution. This can be an excellent case study for you to consider in terms of supervision, processes and campus culture. Learn from it.
7: Grunt Work Still Equals Learning (aka, Making Copies Never Hurt Anyone)
You know what Todd did during his summer internship so many years ago? Damage billing. Do you know what Todd is really good at now? Damage billing. But through this, he learned how to understand complicated processes, communicate with facilities about needs and expectations, and how to calm down a lot of angry parents.
Not everything you do in your internship is going to be fun and at times you may feel like a work study student. Suck it up buttercup. There is a lot of value to what you can learn and what you can contribute to do the tasks necessary to help the permanent staff to excel in their positions.
No one will remember that you created a great RA training guide during your internship if you whined every day about making copies. Demonstrate excellence with every task you are given.
8: This is Just a Snapshot of the Department. Stop Judging.
Your summer internship site could be bat shit crazy. So what? They might like their crazy. And every university has their own version of crazy. Embrace it.
This is a short experience designed to give you just a taste of their culture. The summer semester in higher education is often not reflective of the rest of the academic year. It can be a bit chaotic, less structured, and honestly, sometimes it is harder for the staff to be focused during the summer months. Celebrate the good, brush off the bad, consider the different and come back a more polished professional.
9: The Scope is Different, So Put Chickering Away (For Now. You Can Take Him Out Later).
Summer intern tasks are often less about holistic development of students and more about creating and facilitating processes that will ultimately benefit students. You might not get to apply theory to doing key audits, working the lunch line at Orientation or sorting name tags but ultimately these are tasks that need to get done to ensure that students have what they need to feel connected and successful.
What would Chickering do? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure he would suggest doing a great job at big and small tasks in the name of student success.
10: Utilize This Time to Connect with Professionals in your Area—You Never Know What Doors May Open!
There is a wealth of knowledge and experience in our field. As a grad student, you may have just been exposed to a small glimmer of it through your grad program and undergrad institution. However, there are many professionals that really care about your future and how they can assist you on your path.
If you’re in a large city for your internship, do informational interviews with pros at other schools in the area. If you are in a smaller area, think about grabbing coffee with someone in a different functional area at your internship site. This is not only a time for you to learn about how to be a better professional, but it is also a time to network with those who can help you become this better professional. This can lead to some amazing opportunities, or at the very least, another friendly face you may encounter at a regional or national conference.
Finally, the summer internship is a time to push yourself, learn and do in a different culture and open your mind to different ways of achieving the same outcome—student success.
What other tips do you have for summer interns?