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Internship Alternatives (If COVID-19 Canceled Yours)

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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.

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically affected internship programs. Here are some alternatives.

Internships help students get a headstart on finding a post-grad job. But with COVID-19 causing many internship opportunities to fizzle out, you may be wondering: What now?

The coronavirus has put the economy into a tailspin. New data show many employers are canceling internships or offering them virtually as a result.

A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 22% of employers are revoking offers to interns, while 83% will shorten, cancel, or make their internships remote. Meanwhile, 1 in 2 internship openings on Glassdoor have closed since March.

Losing internships is the latest blow for college students, who continue to face fallout from the global pandemic. Internships — especially summer internships — are the backbone of a graduate's resume. Interns gain practical experience, network with professionals, and test career plans. Some internships even pay.

Fortunately, there are other ways to impress future employers and pad out your resume. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Alternatives to Internships

Alternatives to Internships

Start an App — Or Something Like It

COVID-19 crushed Sam Chazen's chances of landing a summer internship. In spring of 2020 — when he was a 20-year-old rising senior at Syracuse University, double majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship — he had seven openings fall through.

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

Chazen, who was nearing summer break when he spoke with TBS, uses most of his free time to exercise. He 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. 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 when internships weren't an option.

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 businesses.

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

Internships may be falling through, but that doesn't mean you time has to be wasted. 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.

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