Internship Alternatives (If COVID-19 Canceled Yours)

by Evan Thompson
• 4 min read
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The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically affected summer internship programs. Here are some alternatives.

The internship market isn't what it was pre-COVID-19. Uncertainty due to the pandemic is making some employers think twice about offering internships this summer, which means college students may have to reconsider their plans, too.

A survey of 154 employers in Indiana by IndianaINTERNnet found that 24% of employers were unsure about hiring summer interns in 2021. Meanwhile, 35% said they would modify their internship programs. Those modifications would include:

Internships are the backbone of a graduate's resume. Internships allow students to gain practical experience, network with professionals, and test career plans. Some internships even pay.

If in-person internships fizzle out and virtual internships aren't your style, what then? Rather than scramble to find meaningful ways to spend your time, it may be worth considering some internship alternatives as a backup plan.

Fortunately, there are ways to impress future employers and make the most of your free time if you don't get an internship. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Start and Finish a Non-Degree Program

Non-degree credentials are growing in popularity because they offer job-seekers additional skills and opportunities to move up the financial ladder. Having one in your back pocket when you graduate can be a way to impress future employers.

Certificates, certifications, licenses, apprenticeships, and bootcamps all offer professionally-oriented training focused on specific fields. They can help you develop useful skills, like content marketing, Google Analytics, or website design.

While there are programs that take up to a year to complete, others can be finished in a matter of hours or weeks. They also come with different price ranges; some are offered online for free, while others may cost several thousand dollars.

Starting and finishing a non-degree program over the summer will not only display initiative but beef up your resume as well.

Start an App — Or Something Like It

Last spring, COVID-19 crushed Sam Chazen's chances of landing a summer internship. Chazen, a senior at Syracuse University who is double majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship, had seven openings fall through in the wake of the pandemic.

"Every single one of them shut down their programs," Chazen said. "It was demoralizing."

Chazen suddenly had free time on his hands. He spent a majority of it exercising. Chazen was sharing his workout results with friends when he got an idea for a smartphone app.

The app would take data from exercise and turn it into a form of healthy competition, he said.

"If there were a way we could compete for who could get the highest percentage of time increase or burn the most calories, it would change what it means to work out," he said. "I've been working with a buddy of mine on it. I'm by no means launching an app, but we've been flirting with the idea. That would be something cool to plug that free time."

Chazen's app idea is one example of how you can show initiative by creating something this summer. It's a great time to start a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, etc. You'll learn the craft and how to market an idea, and it will show future employers how you spent your time.

Volunteer With Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations impact communities in a variety of ways, including sheltering unhoused people, feeding the needy, and raising money for charitable causes. And they almost always need an extra hand.

Volunteers are valuable assets to nonprofit operations. They typically help with fundraising, administrative tasks, and spreading the word about the organization's core mission.

While it may not perfectly align with your career goals, it's still a worthy addition to your resume. According to a 2016 report from Deloitte, 82% of hiring managers are more likely to pick a candidate with volunteer experience.

Volunteering shows you're passionate about a cause, that you have more than just role-related skills, and that you spend your time proactively.

Launch an Organization

There's a rich history of socially conscious college students who have started nonprofits and foundations.

Ben Simon launched the Food Recovery Network in 2012 while he was a student at the University of Maryland. The organization collects unused food from campus eateries and local restaurants to feed people experiencing homelessness around the country.

Environmental Education for the Next Generation (EENG) was founded in 2009 by a group of undergrads at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since then, EENG has brought free environmental education programs to more than 15,000 elementary school students.

These student-led initiatives show entrepreneurial spirit and continue to have a positive impact.

There are plenty of causes out there, whether it's helping low-income families or improving educational facilities in impoverished countries. If you're genuinely passionate about a cause in your community or abroad, now's a great time to find a way to give back.

Reach Out to Local Businesses

The pandemic has walloped local businesses. Many small business owners are concerned about rising debt, covering payroll, and the financial future of their business.

These struggles mean that business owners need more help than ever. Why not reach out to see if you can help one or more in your area? Even better if you can target businesses or companies that match your career path.

If you’re studying marketing, reach out to a local business and see if they need help with social media. If you’re a computer science major, ask if they need a hand with website development. Your help may go a long way.

Struggling businesses may not be able to pay you, but you can leverage your contributions into professional references and industry connections down the road.

Final Word

In-person internships may not happen in 2021, but that doesn't mean your summer is a waste. Whether it's starting a nonprofit or launching an app, you can create opportunities for yourself that will beef up your resume and impress future employers.

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

Header Imaage Credit: Eva-Katalin | Getty Images

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