Internship Dos and Don’ts for College Students

Angela Copeland
by Angela Copeland   Career Advice Expert 

The importance of participating in one or more internships during college cannot be overstated. Internships help you understand your field, cement (or sometimes, change) your career goals, and they provide adequate experience to give you a fighting chance at securing an entry-level job after graduation.

If you don’t secure an internship during college, the chances that you will struggle to find a job after graduation are high. Intelligence and test-taking ability mean a lot in college. But, in the real world, you must prove that you can do your work and help your employer meet their goals. Also, doing internships helps you obtain professional relationships. The more professional relationships you have, the more opportunities to find a job after college and beyond.

But the work doesn’t end once you obtain an internship. Contrary to what the movies tell you, internships aren’t about making coffee and observing important meetings. Instead, internships are valuable because they expose students to their chosen career field and give them a high-level understanding of what the work will entail.

Get the most out of your internship by avoiding common pitfalls. We created a list of internship dos and don’ts for you. Follow these internship dos and don’ts, so that you can make the most out of your college internships.


Do try to obtain at least one internship during your college years. The experience you will gain during just one summer is invaluable.

Don’t expect all of your internships to be paid. In a perfect world, every employer would compensate their interns. But that’s not reality. Think of it this way. You are paying a lot of money (or taking out student loans) for your education. Your internship is the extension of this education that gives you real experience. It’s not just a “job.” It’s a chance to learn.

Do try to land multiple internships. If you do several internships, especially in different industries, you can refine your career goals. You will also overcome one of the biggest hurdles new grads face: not having enough work experience.

Don’t expect anyone to hand you an internship. You must earn an internship, just like you had to earn your place at your university.

Do utilize your network of family and friends to get leads on internships. Jobs are rarely landed by only an online application. Reach out to your friends, family members, professors, and community contacts. Be prepared to explain what type of internship you’re looking for. And, be ready to send a resume when asked.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the career services office at your college. They typically have leads to numerous internship opportunities. Set up a time to meet with your career counselor to discuss internship possibilities and goals. If you struggle to find an internship, go back for additional consultations.

Do set specific goals for yourself during your internship. Because interns work at a particular job for a short period of time, it’s easy to fall through the cracks. Be proactive. Consider asking your boss to set up a weekly touchpoint meeting with you.

Don’t pass up opportunities. If your boss offers you a project that is slightly outside of your expertise, say yes and give it your best try. This will allow you to have experiences beyond the regular scope of the internship that teach you more about the industry or company. Exposure to new ideas during your internship can open up doors.

Do expect to be treated professionally. In turn, do act professionally at all times. Be on time. Keep your texts and social media use to a bare minimum. Dress appropriately for the industry. Follow through on your commitments.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Get ready to learn new skills and methodologies. This is an important item in our list of internship dos and don’ts. Believe it or not, your boss knows that you’re an intern with little to no experience! No one expects you to know everything. Your employer wants you to be helpful and put in an effort, but they don’t expect perfection.

Do find a mentor within the organization, whether it’s your internship supervisor or another manager. Ask the potential mentor if they would be open to mentoring you. Before you ask, consider your goals. When you do speak, communicate your expectations. For example, if you want to meet with the mentor once a month for one hour, request that in the beginning, so you’re on the same page.

Don’t ever give up in your internship quest. And do exhaust all possible internship leads. Finding an internship, just like finding a job, can be a difficult process. But it’s worth it. The more experience you gain from your internship, the more prepared you will be when you graduate.

Do make sure you leave your internship with new skills, a better understanding of your field, and tangible accomplishments. Take notes about what you liked and disliked during your internship. Knowing your own preferences can help you to make better choices when you eventually apply to a full-time job.

Don’t forget to take advantage of job and career fairs. They’re a great place to look for college internships.

Do craft an exceptional cover letter, learn how to write a resume, and polish up your interviewing techniques. You don’t want to miss out on a great internship opportunity because you’re not prepared. Perfecting your cover letter and resume is a crucial step in our internship dos and don’ts list.

Don’t forget to enjoy your internship — even when you are doing the inevitable grunt work many interns do. It’s a frustrating, but temporary period that most professionals must go through early on in their career.

Do keep in touch with key coworkers from your internships and do cultivate them as part of your network. These coworkers are the same people who may help you find a full-time job after graduation.

Don’t burn any bridges, even if your internship was not great. You will need a reference later. Don’t underestimate the importance of this reference.

Do review this list of internship dos and don’ts while you’re interviewing and then again once you’re hired. To make the most of your internship, it’s important to keep these tips in mind.

Do check out our resume templates. And check out our cover letter templates as well.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these internship dos and don’ts. Following these internship dos and don’ts will help you to land and make the most of a college internship!

About the Author

Career Advice Expert

Angela Copeland Career Advice Expert

Angela Copeland is a career expert and founder of her own coaching firm, Copeland Coaching. Previously, Angela was Vice President of Digital and eCommerce at First Tennessee Bank, and Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing at ServiceMaster. She’s the author of the book Breaking The Rules & Getting The Job and the host of the Copeland Coaching Podcast. Angela is also a syndicated career columnist, and recently shared her career story in a TEDx Talk titled "How I broke the rules & found my perfect job." She holds an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and a B. S. in Computer & Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


Please rate this article

Average Ratings
1/5 stars with 1 reviews

As seen in*

brands image
*The names and logos of the companies referred to in this page are all trademarks of their respective holders. Unless specifically stated otherwise, such references are not intended to imply any affiliation or association with LiveCareer.