Virtual Student Internships Explained

By Benjamin Boivin

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For better or worse, 2020’s global pandemic has changed the way college students do everything. From Zoom-based group projects and networking events to graduate school interviews and interactive virtual student exchange programs, our socially distanced society is learning how to adapt to more screen time and less face-to-face.

WATCH VIDEO: We asked Kings College London student, Akarsh Chalasani about his experience as a virtual intern during summer 2020.

One of the main reasons of all ages pursue a college education is to gain the required skills and credentials to start fulfilling careers after graduation. And for the majority of traditional undergraduate students, obtaining at least one internship during college is crucial for resume building and acquiring real-world experience. As the "real world" is heavily impacted by the "new normal", we are seeing a shift in the way professionals work and college students intern. 


How can you help your students adapt to the digitization of student internships?

First, offer the same guidance and support you would on campus.

For many students, their lives were turned upside-down during the Spring 2020 semester and were impacted academically, socially, emotionally, and professionally. The standard response was, “This stinks, but it’s fine,” but as college advisors and career counselors know, you need to reach out to students and not assume they will reach out to you for support. Many upper-level students may not realize the expanding world of digital internships, which is where your career services department needs to step in.

Develop a rolodex of virtual internship on your student portal or job posting site.

From Linkedin and Indeed to WayUp and The Intern Group, there are currently thousands of digitized internships programs available for students. While the responsibility is on them to ace the interview, your student services staff plays a vital role in preparing your students. Step 1 is developing an easily navigable list of positions organized by academic fields at your institution.

Expand your partnerships with virtual (and on-site) internship coordinators.

Certain professions allow for a more seamless transition from in-person to online collaboration. A digital marketing company, which naturally works screen-to-screen, may have an easier time with virtual internships than on-site civil engineering firms, but that doesn’t mean that the jobs no longer exist. Designate a career services staff member to research and locate companies implementing a hybrid virtual/in-person model. Properly identify the new rules and regulations that are in place for these partially on-site internships and clearly explain the process to your students.

Want to know more about the future of higher education? Watch our webinar here

Consider loosening mandatory internship requirements for graduation.

Rising college seniors in the COVID-19-impacted school year are under enough stress. Instead of forcing students to fulfill a required amount of weekly internship hours in order to graduate, your institution can create a 3-credit professional development course that is mutually beneficial and exclusively online. This for-credit internship replacement will boost students’ confidence and give them a talking point during their first professional interview when employers notice a blank space where senior year work experience should be. The senior year professional development course should include guest lecturers, professional networking sessions, group projects, interview tips, and resume building. 

Loosening traditional requirements is northing new in 2020. In response to the growing spread of COVID-19 this past March, New York University Grossman School of Medicine agreed to permit early graduation for its medical students willing to work in the NYU hospital system's internal or emergency medicine department. Talk about hitting the ground running!

Regarding standardized testing in the United States, hundreds of institutions have decided to temporarily go "test-optional" this year as social distancing has made it nearly impossible to conduct and proctor the in-person exams. Charles Darwin wrote "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."

Online communication platforms like Zoom or GoToMeeting have experienced spikes in users and premium memberships, and some insiders predict a shift to work-from-home life  even after COVID-19 is gone for good. Today's college students need to prepare for tomorrow's career, and for many,  that means learning how to interact virtually. 

Despite a shaky global economy due to COVID-19, students willing to adapt to the changing internship environment will be presented with many opportunities worldwide. Social distancing may prohibit the traditional real-world experience, but a recent Handshake survey of 100 employers found that 60 percent planned to offer virtual internships. The future of full-semester, in-person, for-credit internships is unknown, but the power to adapt to change will continues to be an essential ingredient for students, career advisors, and professionals looking for success in our ever-changing world.   

Topics: International Education Internship

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