Why should I consider an internship?


Night PhotoAn internship can be a valuable way of exploring career goals before graduating and illustrating the value of a liberal arts education on the job market. History majors can benefit from an internship that engages not merely the knowledge acquired in their classes, but the skills as well; critical thinking and communication typically rank high as desired skills among employers (see, for example, the annual Job Outlook surveys published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In addition, history majors are well-positioned to interpret long-term trends and change over time, and to be sensitive to cultural and temporal contexts – both valuable skills in an ever-changing, increasingly connected world. Finally, an internship can potentially open doors to a job post-graduation by building your resume and helping you establish professional connections.

What’s the difference between a job and an internship?

The short answer is that an internship provides a learning experience that is relevant to your classroom education and career goals, whereas a job involves work a regular employee might do to advance an employer’s goal. That is, an internship aims to teach you something above and beyond the basic duties of a position. Additionally, the position must have clearly defined learning goals that are relevant to the students’ career goals and that confer/develop skills that are transferable to other professional settings. For example, working as a page or staffing the checkout desk at a public library would not qualify as an internship, but working under the supervision of a librarian to develop and stage a special exhibit from the library’s collection could qualify. Such a position may involve conducting historical research, developing a timeline for display, overseeing event publicity, or preparing guides for visitors – all responsibilities that can enhance a student’s classroom education in history and provide them with a focused yet broadly applicable skill set. Even non-history organizations can provide meaningful internship experiences; for example, a student who serves as a communications intern at a large, national corporation will develop their ability to write for multiple audiences, interpret complex material, and work as part of an interdisciplinary team. A student at a smaller, local non-profit may work closely with the community to assess their needs, learn about the experiences of a particular group in Wisconsin, or participate in grassroots organizing to effect social change.

For more information on the criteria that define an internship, please refer to the Letters & Science Career Services handout, “Basic Criteria for All Internships,” or to their main internship page.

Are internships paid or unpaid?

Whether an internship is paid or unpaid depends on the individual organization and internship. Many public history or non-profit internships are unpaid, whereas positions in industry or business are more likely to be paid. Financial support for unpaid internships may be available through other campus sources; the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship, for example, supports undergraduates working with a community organization and UW-Madison faculty/staff to solve an identified local or global problem. Students interested in international internships should consult with an advisor in the International Internship Program to learn more about their options. The Center for Academic Excellence provides support for low-income students (particularly those of color) to take otherwise-unpaid, part-time internships through the CAE Career Ready Internship Program, and the L&S Career Services Summer Internship Scholarship provides funding for students taking their first internship. Finally, the College of Letters & Science offers a number of general scholarships for students with a demonstrated financial need.

Be aware, however, that many of the options identified above have application deadlines, so it is crucial to begin planning for an internship early.

Can I get credit for an internship?

The College of Letters & Science does not confer credit for internships in and of themselves, but students may receive academic credit by enrolling in an internship course during the semester they hold the internship. Most history majors will take History 505 (History at Work: Professional Skills in the Major) and History 506 (History at Work: History Internship Seminar), both of which will count towards the major requirements.

Please discuss any plans to receive credit for an internship with Scott Burkhardt, the undergraduate advisor, well before your start date. You must be participating in an internship for the semester you wish to enroll in History 506 (pre-internship students should enroll in History 505). Additionally, the College will not grant course credit retroactively for internships, so be sure you have discussed your plans and completed any relevant applications for internship courses before the semester and internship begin. For more information on academic credit for internships, please see the L&S Career Services internships page (click on “Academic Credit”).

How do I find an internship?

Above all, start early! Start thinking about spring or summer internships in the fall, and about fall internships in the spring. Getting an internship can be a long process, so give yourself the best possible chances by allowing plenty of time to find and apply for opportunities that interest you.

The Letters & Science Career Services website leads to a number of links to search tools and resources that can help you in your search, including a handout with advice and tips (pdf). Advisors in their career and internship communities specialize in different areas, including government/non-profits (a popular choice for history majors). In addition, the Badger Internship Program is specially designed to help students find internships. The suggestions below are intended to supplement the advice that Career Services provides.

  • Make an appointment with the History Department career advisor, who can help you strategize and focus your search based on your interests and goals.
  • Think about specific companies or organizations for which you might like to intern. If you know you are interested in careers in communication, for example, you might consider working for a local newspaper or for a public relations company. Making a list of employers in the fields that interest you can provide a starting point for your search. This approach can be time-consuming – you may have to spend some time identifying possibilities – but it is far more precise and will produce results that are more immediately relevant to your goals than searching general employment websites.
  • Write letters of inquiry. Many companies and organizations will have a “careers” or “employment” page on their website that may include internships, while others may list their internships on a specific student employment page. Either way, do not assume that an organization is not accepting interns unless they explicitly state that no positions are available. A polite email asking about internships could potentially open a door that otherwise appears closed.
  • Attend job and volunteer fairs on campus or in the area. UW hosts a number of different job fairs that are open to students across all colleges, and attending these events can help you learn about possible opportunities. Even if you don’t know quite what you might like to do yet, going to career fairs can be beneficial; they provide chance to talk to recruiters at multiple different companies and find out what qualifications or skills they expect of their interns. Recruiters can answer a wide range of questions about their organization and are often willing to talk with students about how to begin preparing for a career in their field or industry, regardless of whether you are ready to apply for a position with them.

    Job fairs are held early in the semester because many large corporations begin accepting applications in the fall for internships that start in the spring and summer, and in the spring for fall internships. Starting your search early in the semester will maximize your chances of getting the internship you want for the time you want it.
  • Use LinkedIn, Badger Bridge, and BuckyNet to connect with potential employers. All three services offer job listings; Badger Bridge and BuckyNet in particular are designed to connect UW students with potential employers, and Badger Bridge is designed specifically to bring together UW students and alumni to provide support in exploring and realizing career goals. Badgers are a friendly and helpful bunch, so don’t be afraid to contact alumni with “willing to help” on their profile. (The department’s career advisor can also make these connections on your behalf.)

    Make sure you have enough information in your own profile so that potential employers and mentors can see your interests and experience. The more relevant information you can provide, the greater the chances you’ll attract interest.
  • Ask people you know! Your parents, relatives, former supervisors, and even friends may have some suggestions or leads, or perhaps they know of openings in their workplace or have colleagues who are in a field that interests you. Starting with people you already know can make building your network much easier (and much less intimidating)!