5 Things To Consider Before Taking Your First Internship

When it comes to doing an internship, it's normal to have a lot of questions, especially if it's the first time you've tackled one. That's why it's good to figure out what you need to know before your first internship so you can make the best and most informed decisions for yourself. Depending on your field, where you are in college (if you are a student at all), and what place you're at in life, your wants and needs in an internship can vary widely from one person to the next. Personally, I think when it comes to internships, it's awesome to hear the experiences and advice from as many different people as you can, but ultimately center yourself on your own needs. At the end of the day, everyone's internship experience is going to be different, especially if you're not in the same field or career path.

Still, there are definitely some things everyone should know before beginning an internship. Heck, there are things people should know simply when applying for internships, much less beginning them. If you're a college student, it's common for your internship to last an entire semester or summer, so it's extra important to make a decision that will work for you in the long term. After all, you don't want to take on an internship commitment and then bail after a few weeks because you don't want to deal with the commute or you can't handle the hours along with your classes or second job. That's why it's so important to go though what you need to know before you make a decision — no one wants to regret a big leap later on, after all.

It's always a good move to talk to other people in your major or in your goal profession to see what they suggest and what worked for them in the past. In general, though, considering the following five factors is a great place to start when you begin looking for your first internship.

1. How Much You Need To Be Paid

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Money is always an intensely personal decision, but it's never something to take lightly. Unpaid internships have come under fire in recent years; as Susan Adams explains at Forbes, "Proponents of unpaid internships say the jobs help aspiring professionals get on-site experience and résumé entries that can spur their careers. Detractors insist that unpaid positions exploit workers, take jobs from would be entry-level employees, favor the privileged who can afford to make no money, and perhaps most importantly, break longstanding labor laws." No matter what your financial needs are, it's important that you know what they are before you commit to an internship. If you're able and willing to take an unpaid internship, of course there's nothing wrong with doing so; however, don't feel pressured to take an unpaid internship if you know you simply can't afford to work for free. Also, don't be afraid to clarify pay rate and hours before you commit to an interview or trial session, so you can save yourself and the hiring manager time if you simply can't afford the role.

2. Whether You'll Earn College Credit Or Not

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As Kevin Carey discusses over at the New York Times, it can be tricky to decide whether or not you want to take an internship for college credit. Depending on your school, your department may make it super easy to connect you with local employers looking for interns, and from there, assign you college credit for completing a set number of hours over the course of the semester or summer. The main criticism people have of doing internships for college credit is that this generally means you are paying the school for credit hours while you intern, and depending on where you attend and your financial package is, the cost of those credit hours can be pretty darn steep.

3. What Your Commute Will Look Like

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Whether or not you are being paid for your internship, the commute is something you should always take into consideration. First off, the old adage of time being money is often true — and beyond that, commuting can be literal money when you look at the cost of gas or a monthly bus or subway pass.

As Natasha Mascarenhas shares over at The Financial Diet, if you're able to choose an internship where you can commute with a parent or reliable friend, you can totally save money that way. If you are able to walk or bike to your internship, that can be a great way to save money and get some fresh air into your day. Working remotely may even be an option in some cases. Figuring out what you can reasonably commit to doing in terms of travel and transportation will be instrumental in deciding whether to take a particular internship or not.

4. What The Time Commitment Means For Your Other Obligations

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When you're doing an internship and you're still in school, it's super important to make sure your internship doesn't conflict with your classes. Don't take on an internship that requires you to come in on certain days if you know you have a lecture that you really can't miss or another obligation you have to make. Even if you don't have classes, though, you might be balancing your internship with other commitments — a second job, time with your family, and so on and so forth. Choosing an internship that works well for your overall life will make the experience more pleasant than if you're constantly stressed and close to burning out; you'll get a lot more out of it in the long run.

5. What You Want To Gain From The Experience

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When we talk about work in general, we tend to talk about how to make our employers happy. Of course, making your boss happy is always a good thing, but it's important to remember that you matter in this equation, too, even if you are on the bottom of the ladder in the office.

Internships afford an even greater opportunity to take a position based on what you want to gain from the experience. What do you hope to accomplish? Do you want to learn about a new industry, get experience in an office setting, or develop your leadership skills? Is this internship something that will help you decide which path you want to pursue after college? Whatever your reasons are, it's good to do some self-exploring and know them upfront, and then hold yourself accountable to figuring out those answers as you go.

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