Career Exploration and Development

Summer Internships and Jobs

What is the difference between a summer job and a summer internship?

Internships are experiential learning opportunities that take place in the workplace.  They offer time-limited exposure to a professional field, lasting from as short as a few weeks up to a full year. The primary objective of an internship is to gain experience and exposure to a certain career field, assist the full-time employees, and learn. Internships can be paid or unpaid and are linked to your major study or your career interest. Summer jobs are always paid and don't necessarily have to connect back to your major field of study or your career interests.

What if I have to make money?

Not everyone can work for free, but internships—particularly in certain fields—are often unpaid. Career Exploration and Development (CED) does have funds available to help support students who might otherwise be unable to complete an unpaid internship. These funds are provided through the generosity of Oberlin alumni, as well as through grants awarded to the college; more information regarding eligibility and the application process is available in the Summer Experience Funding section of the website. Funding is available but limited and need-based;  the process is competitive. So start thinking about how to make your summer plans feasible as soon as possible.

If you aren't eligible for funding, gaining internship experience may be more challenging, but is still feasible. You may be able to find a part-time job, or one with flexible hours, so that you can still work a few hours each week at an internship. 

What is an internship?

An internship is a fun and exciting way to put your liberal arts skills into action. Internships are a form of experiential learning; you learn about a career that interests you through direct experience in that field. Internships are similar to summer or part-time jobs in some ways; you work for an employer in a professional setting. However, internships are usually more substantial than part-time or summer jobs, and focus on the learning that takes place as a result of the work you're doing. Internships can help you:

  • Identify and explore career areas of interest
  • Gain new skills
  • Build your resume
  • Develop a network of professionals in your fields of interest

Career Exploration and Development encourages all students to complete at least one internship during their time at Oberlin.

The variety of internships available is enormous. Internships may be full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid.

  • Rotational: sequence of short-term assignments to different departments, divisions, or areas of practice.
  • Project-based: some of the best internships are found in the back of supervisors’ desk drawers – those projects the supervisor always wanted to do but could never prioritize.
  • Partner– or team-oriented: there can be “excellence in numbers” – assigning a pair or team of interns to a shared project can profoundly expand the experience for all; when interns work together on shared projects or toward shared goals, they often self-supervise very effectively and may compound results.

What makes a great internship?

All internships, indeed all field-based pre-professional experiences, involve some proportion of observation and participation. Internships with more of one than the other can be great with balances on either side – as long as each is focused and intentional. Great internships are thought out and planned in advance. Weaker internships find supervisors on their morning commutes asking themselves, “What can I give my intern to do today?” The latter happens too often, despite most supervisors having good intentions. Internships often become back-burner considerations to higher-impact priorities in the immediate supervisors’ jobs.

Great internships include some kind of serious learning agreement to which interns and supervisors both commit. Such agreements include goals and ways to measure results. They also include regular intervals to re-assess the intern’s progress.

  • Great interns use their peripheral vision to spot subsidiary learning opportunities, and they are assertive in asking to be part of opportunities outside their immediate responsibilities.
  • Great interns identify and propose projects if/when they become under-challenged.
  • Great interns aren’t afraid to ask questions and reach out for help when they need it.

  • Great supervisors assign their interns short term projects that carry firm deadline dates along with one long-term project that interns can re-focus on when they’re in between the shorter ones.
  • Great supervisors create action plans for orientation, training, supervision, coaching/ mentoring, and evaluation/performance reviews.
  • Great supervisors are intentional about integrating interns with other professionals.
  • Great supervisors look for unconventional opportunities for intern engagement, such as including them in staff meetings or having them attend a local conference, or sitting in on webinars.
  • Great supervisors provide interns access to other professionals in a field. Example – connect interns for one or two days for a “shadow” experience with a colleague in a smaller/larger organization and/or one that works in a different area of practice.

When can I do internships?

Oberlin students most commonly do internships during the summer. However, some students are able to arrange part-time internships during the semester. Winter Term is also a very popular time for internships. Career Exploration and Development coordinates many unique and exciting Winter Term internships across the country. Students from all class years are strongly encouraged to apply for a Winter Term internship. (See more details on our Winter Term Internships page).