The pandemic has changed life for college students. It shut down college campuses, moved classes to a virtual format, and disrupted jobs for many working students.
In addition, more than 4.5 million young adults tested positive for COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic. With so many young people still getting sick and the current vaccine rollout plan prioritizing older groups, many in-person internships likely won't be happening in 2021.
Fortunately, college students don't have to give up on internships entirely. Instead, they should pursue virtual opportunities.
What Is a Virtual Internship?
The word "intern" brings to mind a fresh-faced college student bringing coffee to a manager and then taking notes during a meeting — all things that are hard to do remotely. So what, exactly, is a virtual internship?
In many fields that rely on remote work, virtual interns complete tasks from home, connecting with supervisors and team members via email, video chat, and other remote work technologies. They can still strengthen career-focused skills and build their networks — just not in person.
During a virtual internship, students can gain practical training in areas like marketing, IT, sales, media, and other industries that easily transition into remote work. Interns simply complete their tasks and responsibilities from home instead of going into an office.
To find virtual internships, you can start by looking online, but it's also a good idea to reach out to your college. For instance, in February 2021, the University of Arkansas hosted a virtual career fair attended by 81 companies looking for potential interns and employees.
Remote job fairs are a growing trend among businesses. In Fall 2020, more than 90% of employers reported attending a virtual career fair.
Why Are Internships Important?
Internships help college students strengthen their professional skills. They also help college students explore career options in different fields and expand their professional networks. Internships can even lead to career opportunities.
Graduates who complete an internship dramatically increase their chances of receiving a job offer at the end of their program, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). In 2019, 57.5% of students with an internship received a job offer, compared to only 43.7% of students who did not complete an internship.
If you can find one, a paid internship translates into even better job prospects. The NACE study found that 66.4% of students with a paid internship received a job offer.
What You Can Gain From a Virtual Internship
A virtual internship looks a little different from an in-person internship. Instead of logging in with a badge at the front door, virtual interns login from home. In spite of the different format, a virtual internship still offers several key benefits.
- The class of 2021 will graduate into an economy with more remote-work opportunities than ever before. A virtual internship builds the skills necessary for remote work. For example, virtual interns learn to use platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack in a professional setting. They can also demonstrate their adaptability when learning new ways of working.
- Virtual internships require strong organizational and time management skills. Instead of a supervisor walking over to check on an intern's work, interns have to monitor their own time and stay focused while completing tasks.
- Virtual internships open the door to opportunities that didn't exist before. Students in rural areas can intern for major corporations without relocating, and undergrads can target their dream company even if it isn't local. Virtual interns can expand their search to the national level.
Virtual internships offer several personal benefits as well. The flexibility of a virtual internship makes it easier to arrange tasks around your schedule rather than going to the office during set hours. By not commuting to an internship, virtual interns also save time and money.
Instead of letting the pandemic end their internship aspirations, college students can gain professional experience and expand their network through a virtual internship — with the added flexibility of a remote work format.
If you're interested in finding virtual internships for summer 2021, now is the right time to start looking. Visit your campus's career center or reach out to a career counselor to find virtual internship opportunities suited to your professional goals.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.
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