Internships vs. Graduating on Time: What’s More Important?

Today, for the first time I believe, I’m dedicating the entire post to the topic of internships. I can’t believe I haven’t done it before now given the importance of the topic, but thanks to Allen from Florida, I’m now on the case. He writes:

Hi Josh!


I’m currently a sophomore at a public state university in Florida and I’ve been wondering about how important it is to get an internship and/or other career related experiences.

Very important. Not critical, as in, “you can never get hired without one,” but very important, as in, “it gives you a huge advantage over other applicants who don’t have any work experience.” But carry on…

I’m currently in the process of interviewing with a potential employer for an internship over the summer, but I feel that even if I do get an internship this coming summer it’s going to be a bitter-sweet situation.  The problem is that if I get an internship ( high chances ), I would not be able to take this core class for my degree program over the summer and will have to take it in the fall (this class is a prerequisite for most of my other classes).

I will still have a full load of classes for the upcoming fall semester, but not taking this one class will push all the other major classes back a semester or two.  Since my freshman year, I’ve been told how important it is to obtain real-world experiences, but now I’m not sure really what to do.

If I get an internship this summer should I accept it and push my time of graduation back a semester or two?  Or should I decline and take that class, which will keep me on track for my remaining semesters?  Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated.



Thanks, Allen. I don’t usually like to be so cut-and-dried with my answers since every situation has its unique details for every person that may sway one’s decision, but in this case, I can’t really find much balance. My advice is to take the internship. Here are some reasons why:

1) Internships are really, really valuable, on multiple levels. First and most importantly, employers like you to have them. An internship is like a trial run at a real job, basically, and if you’ve done that successfully, the future employers that you’ll be sending resumes to will be more assured that you can handle a real job if they offer you one.

These guys look way too jolly to be real interns. At a real gig, you and the other interns will all probably be smoking cigarettes in the parking garage in between menial tasks and ass-chewings. But hey -- bonding, right?

It’s especially helpful if that internship was at a job that’s very similar to the kind of job you’re applying for — you’ll need less training that way at your new gig, probably. But even if it’s not, don’t worry: there are basic job skills and etiquette that you can acquire at any internship. Showing up on time, doing what you’re asked to do, doing it on time, being polite, dressing appropriately, etc. — all this stuff is what you can show your future employer during an internship of any kind.

2) For all the reasons stated above, internships are also very good for YOU and your professional growth. I feel pretty confident saying that, for at least 80% of you, the internship(s) that you do during college will be, by far, the best and most valuable preparation you experience for the job you’ll get after graduating. For most of you, no college course or campus job will even come close to teaching you what an internship will.

3) Graduating “on time” isn’t that big of a deal to most employers. Unless you’re a “Tommy Boy” type who took seven years to graduate with a bachelor’s degree just because you were partying too much or too dense to pass basic classes the first time, we don’t really care how long it took you to graduate. If you’re ready to work now, then right on.

And you can put an exclamation point on this if, as is Allen’s situation, you took the extra time to graduate because you were doing an internship. I’ve yet to meet an employer (and I’ve met a lot of ’em) who frown on an applicant who took it upon herself to gain more professional experience before trying to get a job.

4) Remember this: when you’re graduating and are looking for a job, the most important section of your resume will be the “experience” section, and without internships, that section might be pretty sparse. However, that “experience” section gets fatter and juicier with every internship that you complete. When it’s time to do your first resume, you’ll be extremely happy you did those internships.

5) Consider the alternative: you skip the internship and graduate five months early. What benefit will you have realized from doing that? Well, you’ll have bought yourself five extra months to shop around a weaker resume than you would’ve had if you’d just stuck with the internship, and you’ll have bought the right to say, “I graduated in four years!” Which, even though it’s a lot rarer than it used to be, still isn’t a huge deal to anyone I’ve ever known.

I graduated in four years myself, even with a couple of changes of major and minor — and no one, not one person, has ever even asked me about it that I can recall, let alone given me any credit or esteem for doing so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool accomplishment, but it’s just not one that anyone other than yourself is going to recognize very much.

What about you all, any thoughts on the subject? Please add them below if you have questions or comments — I always love to hear them, whether they’re positive, negative or absolutely ridiculous.

I’m off to the State Farm claims office to collect a check for my wife’s totaled car (and for those of you who asked, she is healing quite nicely, and thanks for your well-wishes!).

Coincidentally enough, I sat in on the National Student Advertising Competition regional finals at the University of Minnesota a couple of weekends ago, and this year’s sponsor happens to be State Farm, and the advertising problem that students have to address for this year’s competition is State Farm’s lack of market penetration among 18-to-24-year-olds.  I’ll also be sitting in on the national finals in Orlando in June (so come find me on Foursquare if any of you are going to be there!).

So yeah, if all you in that target demographic want a reason that State Farm is a pretty good, check out that whole crash-on-Saturday, check-on-Tuesday situation. Doesn’t get much better than that. (This is not a paid ad, although it’s beginning to sound like one, so I’ll shut up now). Anyhow, leave comments/questions below on the whole internships deal. Have a good night!

40 thoughts on “Internships vs. Graduating on Time: What’s More Important?”

  1. Chris Steines

    Speaking from personal experience, I can say that internships are really, really, really, really valuable … and not just for professional practice.
    I’ve done internships in different fields just to get a feel for the occupation (to name a few, grant writing, journalism, web design, business…), and while I learned skills in all of those different fields, I also learned/realized that those fields were not a right fit for me.

  2. Personally, if I was in that situation I would take the internship depending on how benficial it could be towards my future career. I take my major and my desired career seriously, I would do almost anything to assure that my dream job happened. Basically, if the internship isn’t that big of a deal then I would not take it. Graduating with my class and continuing my college experience is also important to me though. I guess you would basically have to ask yourself, “How important to me is it to graduate with my class?” and also “How important it is to me to get through all of my classes in a timely manner?”

  3. Diana Watkins

    Absolutely, absolutely get an internship if you can!!! I wanted to graduate on time or early and my mother pushed me to skip internships to take summer classes. Big mistake! Your parents aren’t always right!

    I graduated in 4 1/2 years, and I’ve spent half a year searching for a job and desperately doing what I can here and there to pay the bills and my student loans. If I’d taken the internships like my friends had, I’d graduate in 5 years, but I’d have a great job right away with a much better income, much less stress, and a much bigger self-confidence than I do now. Everyone wants to hire people with experience these days, and frankly, I don’t have it. So I’m stuck in a catch-22 while I desperately try to beef up my portfolio, polish my resume and cover letter, and find entry-level positions that are also turning me away left and right!

    Take the internships wherever you can get them!

  4. Go for the internship. Being in school gives you a huge advantage over people like me who are not in school anymore, you can take internships at big name companies. I cannot and since the economy is bad, I cannot even get an entry level job with them.
    I have to add that I have an MBA….and does it worth anything? ZERO.
    It is a nice to have a BA but anything over that is a disadvantage right now. It seems like even a BA is a disadvantage in some cases. Most current openings are low paid entry level positions and the last thing companies want is someone who cost them more then a person with a high school degree. So think before you take out some more loans just because someone once told you, you could do better or you are smarter then the rest. If you are really smart set up a strategy. Jobs do not come by applying online. Most people get them through personal connections, so you have someone to place you in a good position then go ahead and take that class but if not postpone and postpone graduation till you HAVE THAT personal connection who will give that job. Otherwise you end up as the rest of us.

  5. Richard Vidair

    My son is interning at Lockheed Martin and is graduating a semester late. He has performed well and is already holding meetings for the full-timers. He has requested and was granted a transfer to the division of his choice with a high salary after he graduates. He would have had no chance at this without the internship. He would have been graduating this week with nowhere to go and with nothing to show for his 4 yr degree. Needless to say, I am pro-internship.

  6. Also, it’s possible to get an override for some of those classes that ‘require’ the core class to be taken first (if you talk to an advisor or professor beforehand and the course is manageable!).

  7. Also, it’s possible to get an override for those classes that “require” the core class (as long as you talk to an advisor/professor first to make sure the class is manageable!) So, you can get around that hurdle, perhaps taking other necessary classes at the same time as the core class!

  8. It’s a shame, the unpaid internship, it really is…but it can be invaluable in the end, if you actually gain experience in the field (as oppose to buying coffee and making coffee, and pouring coffee etc). Unfortunately, many internships don’t pay because the employer feels its his/her divine right to make you haul ass just to say you knew him/her. An unpaid internship=pay/work to know me, to name drop.
    Such a shame. I really wish every one could be as lucky as I am…I work as an office manager for a TV ad production company. My boss pays me twenty dollars an hour and I work my BUTT OFF ten hours a day, six days a week. It’s worth it, as she’s mentioned my incredible work ethic, my potential and my smarts to other employers, my school (who is going to give me internship credit) etc. It seems that if I keep it up, she’ll hire me when I graduate (she’s dropped a few hints). At the same time, I have acquired an extremely versatile skill base, both within the advertising world, and in the office management world. I can use both skill sets in the future, depending on what I want to do.
    In sum, I guess what I am trying to say is that internships are quite important, but there are some employers who won’t help you gain experience in the field, which, no matter how impressive your resume is, may only help you find a job…and once you get it, you may realize that making coffee isn’t a relevant skill.

  9. There HAS TO be a way around this, I feel like. For one, could you take the class at the same time as the internship? Also, is the internship paid or not? that’s very important. Could you take the class somewhere else, at a community college or online, and also do the internship? Otherwise I agree and I’d do the internship, if it’s paid. you can always take off more time from school and just work. Having work experience is so much more important than what you do in school. Trust me. I just graduated and I only have part time work. So many things I would have done differently. You don’t want to graduate right now, anyway :). See if theres a way to do both, nad I agree if it is paid definitely definitely do the internship, if its unpaid … id probably take the course and get a job that pays but dont know.

  10. Thanks for the tip Josh, I just completed my Sophomore year at the University of Kentucky where I’m studying to be a Mechanical Engineer. I was planning on looking at co-oping which is sort of like interning and now that I saw this post, I’m that much more into the whole idea. Now instead of being 100% certain I’m going to co-op, I’m 110% certain I’m going to co-op.
    Thanks again!
    Have a great night.
    P.S. I’m glad to hear that your wife is okay.

  11. As you’re interviewing, be sure to remember that it’s an opportunity for you to check out the employer, not just to convince them to pick you. Asking detailed questions about what exactly your responsibilities will be not only makes you look organized and engaged, but ensures that you don’t get stuck as a low-level assistant away from the action. I had an internship where each and every day I would go in and they would tell me that they couldn’t think of anything for me to do, so I would have to offer to clean or organize the books. Luckily I was able to work with my advisor and add in shadowing experiences at other sites to salvage the semester. Be sure before you commit to anything that you will be exposed to the meat of the business and given substantial tasks to complete.

  12. I think taking internships is super-important. Lucky for me, I have been able to work in my field since graduating high school. Last summer with that job and an unpaid internship in professional baseball, I was able to gain A LOT of experience AND I met people in my field from throughout the country. This summer I was able to obtain a paid internship that might not have the same prestige as the pro baseball, but it has more responsibilities that will directly relate to my future job. My program requires an internship between our 4th and 5th semesters in the program. And I’ll still graduate in 3.5 years! 🙂

  13. I got my first internship at a non-profit. It was scheduled to be ten weeks long. I found a great one. It turned into an AmeriCorps opportunity. I am still there! I love the job, they love me, too and my boss and I are trying to work it our so that they will let me stay another year!

  14. Allen,
    Go for the internship if you are interested in potentially worki g with the company/organization. The internship I had in college resulted into a full time dream job of now six years, after a four month internship. Organizations love to hire from within, especially if they know your work habits, attitude, skills, teachability, etc.

    Glad your wife is recoverying well! Best, Lori

  15. The internship can really help you on so many levels. If you like the company and they like you, you might have work by your senior year – paying work. Wouldn’t it be nice to start paying off your student loans before you graduate? Or if you’re lucky enough that it doesn’t matter, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a job either before you graduate or just as you get out? Even if the company won’t hire you (hiring freeze, etc.) you’ll have professional people in your field who can and will give you references. Also, Josh is right – if you’ve taken time off and graduated a little late because if the internship it still looks great on your resume. Good luck, I hope you get the internship and I hope it’s everything you wish it to be.

  16. Some of my children had job offers from companies they interned with. Also helped them decide on what type of industry they wanted to focus on (ex private auditing vs in-house auditing vs accounting department in a worldwide company) and some of the advantages/disadvantages of each type of job.

  17. I think having hands on experience is more helpful to a potential employee than just someone who has a degree but no experience. In my case my job as administrative assistant in a counseling office led to my deciding to get a degree and began college at age 47. I began my associates degree at a local college, taking face to face classes that began to interfere with work and life. So I switched to University of Phoenix online and completed my Associates degree in March with a 3.77 GPA, after never finishing high school but with a GED. My AA degree is in Human Service Management. What I really want to do is be a substance abuse therapist. I found an addiction studies program at Grand Canyon University, also online and will start my Bachelor Program there in September. By having a boss who allowed me to learn the counseling business from the ground up and by his allowing me to do intakes every so often, along with the required contact hours and my boss signing off for me, I received my Certified Addiction Counselor Certification for the State of Michigan in October 2008. In October 2009 I began facilitating substance abuse classes in a local prison, I am on my third and fourth classes now. The first two time I did one class, twice a week at a time. Now I am doing two classes and am there three times a week. Saturday’s I do both classes. I am getting more practical experience than I ever thought I would get. And I am leaniing as I go along. Each class I have evolved more with it. I was just given a manual, said to go here and conduct the class. I winged it pretty good the first time and get better each class I do. This too is practical experience,. My Bachelor degree is in Addiction Studies, as will be my Masters and Doctorate degrees. I will probably be close to 60 when I finish school, if I finish. Hey, I just might become a career student. I am blessed to have a paid internship at my office. Many internships are unpaid. I am blessed to be able to help men and women get sober and drug free. Sobriety for an alcoholic is like freedom, the gates open, new doors open, old doors close, bur we grow in so many ways. Today i can see the difference I make iin some of the inmates lives when I tell them I was pretty close to where they are just nine short years ago.

    Sorry for being so long winded. I never really accessed this site before and its kind of cool. I love all the feedback.

  18. As an education major, having my internship is incredibly invaluable. Even though I can’t take as many classes, I know that they would not be preparing me as well for my future as my internship…. ie. actually standing in front of students, teaching them, managing them, organizing the material…it’s a lot to do! And I’m glad I’m doing it now, otherwise I might have graduated and got a job only to realize that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, and then where would that leave me?

  19. Internships are very important as they help you get work experience.
    Pushing back graduation by a semester or two will not impact your chances of
    getting a job later on as you have a very good reason for the same. The internship
    will also give you an idea of what working is like and this will help you decide if
    you wish to join industry or academics and you might be offered a job which will take a
    huge load off your head.

  20. Thanks for the tip Josh,i am finshed my Bsc degree in Ambo university in Ehiopia ,with my feiled of study i was worked in Amhara regional state as development agent of expert for 3and 1/2 monthes . with to short expireince , the voulentry working very cruicial to performe well. now from 2008 to 2010 .i am joining Harmaya University in the same field of study . i will gruduate inthe coming 2011 .i need to learn myPhD as much as possible ! i was gruagated with point of GPA 3.14 in animal production.and now i try to work hard my thesis work in west gojjam on the effect of supplementation with mixture of of ficus sycomorus tree leaves and fruit on intak , digestability and body change Washera sheep fed on natural hay.this is have good impilication of poor farmers that found at grass root level to fatten and to conservee the natural resoures inline with methen reduction to reduce eviromental polution.thanks ,Be happy and make others happy!

  21. Thanks for the tip Josh, i am 25 years old young tall and dream full scinists now .i have Bsc degree in animal production and also now i am joining another University to learn my Msc degre in the same felid of study .i will end my thesis work at the end of 2010 in Haramaya University the title i try to discused above. i was Gruaduate with 3.14 in Ambo University in 2008 ,even though i need to learn my PhD . eventhough Internships vs. Graduating on Time: What?s More Important?work with out understanding it will be leads to the abite conifusion . i personaly gues that both are important when the job is avilable unless learning better so that it depends the condition

  22. I’d say work experience always trumps schooling. Too many people are book smart but have no idea how to apply their education. However, I also think a balance is in order. If interning is going to distract you from finishing with school, I’d say don’t even go there and volunteer during free time. Volunteering may not be as intense as an internship, but can still allow you to harness abilities that you can confidently use during an interview. Plus, while the employer may not ask you about your education you can always mention your strengths during the interview. Making a goal to finish school quickly even while you’re getting applicable knowledge always shows your ability to meet goals, multi-task, and your zeal for learning. Do what makes you feel confident so that you can sell yourself to a professional who’s looking for a great employee. If you go the school route I would also suggest having a good relationship with some professors for recommendation purposes and getting some experience at least through volunteerism.

  23. Oh yeah. These are hard times for profit-seeking insurance companies. They need all the ads they can get.

  24. I was lucky enough to get an internship, where the office is flexible with my school and work schedule, and has been on of the best expiriences of my brief career. The people here treat me as an employee, and push on the job experience. Some internships have you working in one department, and you only file papers. Here we are responsible for coordinating projects, and even negotiating contracts alone. Schoo l will always be there and from a financial standpoint, take the extra semester or two increase now, in the end your salary options will increase when you graduate.

  25. How internship for doctors? Can some one help me to give any information about this. I’d like to know which country can give the internship to any garaduated doctors?

  26. A professor that I once had told the class that his daughter did an internship at an airline, even though it was not her field, and she got to know the vice-president of the company. The vice-president knew someone who worked in the daughter’s field and recommended her a job opening, based on her good work during the internship. If I remember correctly, she received the job. That tells you that an internship can be good for networking opportunities. As for your situation, I think you should weigh the pros and cons. Doing that process may be the only way to know, but maybe, the example I gave can be of some guidance.

  27. I am a sophomore as well. My major is psychology with a minor in biology. My intended specialty for graduate school is experimental pschology. For any graduate program to even look at my application I have to have considerable lab and research experience in my portfolio with an extensive emphasis on statistics. With that being said, I am willing to set my own graduation date by a year in order to work as an intern in the Univeristy as well as the hospital labs.
    I agree that hands on experience will get you that much farther then just the degree. The degree shows the ability to learn, take tests and show up in class. The work experience shows you can apply your hard earned knowledge in the real world.

  28. Hello,
    I believe as much as one needs the course knowledge ,one requires experience as well.It makes you a better person at the work if you do internship and increases chances of getting a job too. So yes an internship is necessary

  29. I’m graduating in 5 yrs instead of 4 and I have 2 internships this summer. I love my internships and one of them might even hire me after the internship is over. One more year is worth the experience.

  30. I agree with going with the internship, but I want to send off a quick message and a huge caveat:

    If you are depending on financial aid, _see if they care when you graduate._ I have one loan that I forfeit it if I’m “out of school” for more than two years before graduating. That includes interning, in the fine print. As far as I can tell, that’s unusual, but something to check for!

  31. Hey thanks! I was wondering about this internship thing.
    I just graduated from high school and I’m working as a substitute teacher at my school. I’m having a great time and learning lot’s everyday. The experience is helping me mature, it really is providing me with a new perspective. I haven’t even started university yet! Oh, if you’re wondering, I am receiving a steady paycheck. And I teach grade 11 biology if you’re still wondering. I’m substituting for a teacher on maternity leave but she’ll be back soon so I’m almost done.
    Nonetheless, this three month mini job experience has definitely been a great experience. My objective is only to keep adding to my personal logbook of experience so I really don’t care about finishing my BA on time.

  32. I took a 2 year break from school after I graduated high school. I worked a couple of different jobs just to see if I could find out what kind of work I liked to do. My 2nd post-high school job was as a phlebotomist (the person who draws blood) in a hospital. I loved the work and now know I want to get into the medical field, probably nursing.

    Thanks to my work experience, my volunteer experience, and the active role I play in the student nursing association at my school, I’ve been told I’m pretty much a shoo-in for my University’s nursing program (which accepts 20 people per semester and usually gets 100+ applicants each semester). Even better, I got a phlebotomy job at a hospital near my university that offers 70%-100% tuition reimbursent to nursing students.

    So, because I took the time to work before starting college, I’ve found out what I want to do, have been told I will get into a competitive scholastic program, and I will have my college tuition paid for by someone else. Its a Win-Win-Win situation.

  33. Internships are important, if you want to go anywhere with your career. So what, you won’t graduate in the four years that you were planning on, but think of all of the valuable knowledge that you will gain that you really can’t find in a classroom. If you really think about it, most classes aren’t like the real world. You sit at a desk for an hour or more and listen to a lecture, get up and leave; how does that help you with your career. That lecture may have some necessary information you may need while you’re on the job, but when you get to the job, do you really know how to handle yourself and the situations that come about? Plus, what if you end up not liking what you majored? An internship can help decide that. That’s what they’re there for. You get to experience things that you would on the job and learn as you go. I plan on being a kindergarten teacher and if I were to just pass up a great opportunity to take an internship and got on the job and didn’t like it. I would have just wasted four years of my life and thousands and thousands of dollars. Internships take up time, yes, but they are necessary if you want to gain ACTUAL experience in your career.

  34. I think what ever your heart desires that is what you should do, if it going to help you in the future, go for it.

  35. Question…many people work 40 hours a week and STILL go to school…why can’t you?? I am doing my internship this summer and taking 3 online classes…maybe that will work for you…then you could graduate ontime.

  36. Malik Abdur Rehman

    thanx for your advice
    i can do this without any difficulty because if a person wanna do any thing with determination so he can do that without any problem
    and i a hope full i can do that…….

  37. Hi! So, I’ve had two internships already, and this fall, I’m hoping to land a third. And let me tell you, so far, I’ve already got a couple of offers, and what I keep hearing from the companies is “your resume is pretty impressive.” While I do have really pretty font and organization on it, I’m rather certain they’re talking about my previous internship experiences.

    If you’ve made nice with the faculty…especially the department head…in your major, and you’ve got the grades to back it up, many profs will waive the pre-req (as long as you take it ASAP).

    Also, many internships have flexibility. When interviewing with potential internships, you can ask what the hours look like. My two previous ones were willing to work with my schedule and I didn’t have to go in every day. So it may even be possible to do both!

  38. Hello Josh,

    I am an AmeriCorps VISTA working as a Community Outreach Coordinator with Community Link’s Family Financial Literacy Coalition. My past experience for the past 5 years has been as an employment counselor. I have to say that you are spot on with this piece that you have shared with the audience. Employers love to see real life experience. This builds the resume and shows them what it is that the individual is capable of doing. It also provides them with networking opportunities as well as future pool of job leads.

    I am currently working on putting together an Internship Program with Community Link and partnering with local Universities and College in the area by providing Internships to their students. This will be a win, win, win for all of us. A win for the student for gaining valuable experience, a win for the non-profit for gaining a valuable resource in the student, and a win for the community that will benefit from the service that the students will provide. I would love to get your permission to use this particular experience you wrote about in our recruitment material. Please get back with me and thanks for sharing this valuable insight.

    Shawn Grady
    Community Outreach Coordinator
    Community Link FFLC

  39. I’d definitely say go for the internship – I’ve done a couple so far during my degree and they’ve been great. Benefits include:
    – Getting the opportunity to try out possible job options (eg for me I’ve been undecided between going down the traditional science research route or going into industry)
    – Transferable/ technical skills for your CV
    – Learning stuff that will help you in your degree
    – Sometimes you can do a project in your internship that actually counts towards your degree (more relevent for year long placements)
    – Most science ones are pretty well paid, more than working in the local shop over the summer anyway, so you can earn some cash to help you next term
    – Many employers use internships as part of their recruitment process, I know many interns who were offered graduate jobs after their internship

    I’ve never heard of having to take summer classes, sounds like an American thing, but delaying graduation by a few months won’t have all that much impact on your career, whereas having real life work experience is so helpful.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top