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How to Secure an Internship as a Freshman in College

Written for Freshman, Applicable to Everyone!

By Meghan Reilly

As a freshman, I wanted to find the perfect internship for the summer after my first year of college. The only issue was that there didn’t seem to be many great internship opportunities for freshmen! After lots of searching, networking, and time spent in my college’s Career Center, I finally found an awesome internship. By following the advice below, I was able to secure an internship that was actually really formative in my development as a person.

Everybody’s journey to securing an internship is different, but these tips can help you get started. All of this advice is not exclusive to first-years, and can be utilized by anyone and at any stage in the internship or job search process.

Be intentional and realistic

Telling you to join clubs is the most basic piece of advice, but it is also in many ways the most important. Without involvement on campus and in the community, you will have very little to build your resume on or to talk about with potential employers. When you enter college in the fall of your freshman year, you might want to join 15 clubs, but that’s not realistic. You should be intentional about what you dedicate your time to.

Consider which clubs you are most interested in, and then figure out which ones you can actually attend meetings for. Focusing on a smaller number of clubs is ideal if you are very active in those organizations. You can also consider volunteerism and an on-campus job in order to get more involved and build your resume. However, don’t do everything just for the sake of the resume. Be intentional by choosing to be actively involved in the things that you love, and they’ll end up looking great on your resume anyway. Remember to get comfortable with your workload and adjust to college life before committing to too much!

Keep track of your involvement

I recommend keeping a running document that lists all of the organizations and volunteerism that you are involved in, along with the dates and any leadership positions that you might hold. This is critical for when you start to form your resume, as it is easy to forget the specifics of things that you have accomplished. Once you have enough involvement, you will be able to tailor your resume to every position that you apply to.

I personally keep an Excel spreadsheet that I add to every time I join a new club, secure a leadership position, volunteer, win an award, and so on. I try to keep as much detail on this sheet as I can, and it allows me to choose the items that are most relevant when I create a resume for an application. As you begin to create different resumes for different positions, start adding all of the items into a running CV. This way, you can just go into your long CV to copy and paste your positions with the accompanying bullet points right into a resume. You can create a resume in as little as 5 minutes if you put in the initial effort of compiling everything into one place!

Image 1: Here is a sample Excel spreadsheet used to keep track of involvement. I format mine this way so that I can see how much I have done in a given term (my school has trimesters). I removed a lot of identifying detail, but notice that I didn’t do anything during my winter break, and I only started to take on leadership positions in my final term of freshman year. Don’t feel pressured to do more than you can!

Invest in professional wear

When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom took me to the mall and bought me a professional suit and a dress. While the initial cost was as much as $200, I have worn both the suit and the dress so many times over these past seven years that they’ve practically paid for themselves several times over. My mom has even borrowed the suit a few times for her own interviews!

It can be very costly to purchase professional clothing. If you do have the funds to invest in a good suit, then I encourage you to do so. I recommend keeping your eye on sales, because paying full price for a suit is far too expensive on a college student’s budget! I once bought a navy blue suit at Ann Taylor for about $90. You’ll have to do a lot of searching to get quality clothing for lower prices at a retailer, but it’s worth it.

Hand-me-downs and secondhand clothing are equally viable options. I have found some high quality dress pants at thrift shops for as low as $5. I have also been fortunate to receive some of my mom’s and aunt’s old professional wear over the years. If some of the clothes that you get secondhand or at thrift shops do not fit you perfectly, a needle and thread can do wonders (or a tailor if you can’t sew!).

Remember, you only need one outfit to start. The same suit or dress can be used at your networking event, during your interview, and even throughout your internship. Nobody will expect you to have an extensive wardrobe of professional wear. However, that one outfit will set you apart from the rest and allow you to present yourself in a positive and professional manner.

Look for non-traditional opportunities and outside funding

It may be difficult to find professional, paid internships. Of course, this varies on your school, location, and many other factors. However, don’t be afraid to consider non-traditional options. As a freshman, you are not expected to secure a highly professional and prestigious internship. Don’t let that stop you from trying for those opportunities, but also be sure to think outside of the box. Many students don’t secure internships until sophomore or junior year, so you can get ahead of the curve now, even with a less traditional option.

When I was a freshman, I decided to take an unpaid internship at a non-profit, but I still got paid throughout the summer. I paid close attention to the opportunities offered by my college, and was able to apply for and secure funding available to students working with non-profit organizations. Don’t automatically reject an opportunity if it is unpaid because you may be able to find funding through your school or a scholarship.

Use your Career Center

There are many things that your university’s Career Center can do for you. Be sure to make an appointment to get advice on your resume and how to search for internships, and of course, make sure you attend Career Fairs and other events! As a freshman, I recommend that you attend your school’s Career Fair no matter what. You might not emerge with an internship, but you should take this opportunity to strike up conversations with potential future employers and start networking early. Ask about the opportunities that will be available to you in the coming years as a sophomore, junior, or senior, or even as a specific major. If they ask for your resume, have one on-hand (preferably on resume paper). Ask for their card and send them a brief thank-you email after the event is over.

Another service offered by my school’s Career Center is that you can book rooms to hold in-person or phone interviews. I introduced myself to my future boss at a Career Fair, provided my resume, sent a thank-you email, and as a result was encouraged by her to apply for an internship position. As a freshman with no car, I was unable to drive to the office for an interview, so I reached out to my Career Center to book a room for the interview. My boss was happy to come to campus to interview me, and actually commented that the Career Center’s room was even better looking than theirs.

Many Career Centers also offer appointments just to inform you about all of the services that they offer to students. I highly recommend that you make an appointment as soon as possible, so that when it comes time for resume building, internship or job searching, creating a LinkedIn, and more, you already know what is available and can readily access those resources.

Most importantly, be intentional in your journey and set realistic goals. Good luck!


About the author: Meghan Reilly is a senior double major in Classics and Chinese with an Economics minor at Union College. During the summer between her freshman and sophomore year, Meghan worked with the Special Olympics New York and secured the Roger H. Hull Community Service Internship Funding grant through her college’s Career Center. As a result of this internship, Meghan has continued to work with underserved populations and is considering pursuing a career that involves underserved populations and accessibility to education.

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