Getting Your Master's Degree Online? Here's How to Find an Internship.
March 10, 2021
Finding the perfect internship as an online student may require slightly more time and effort than compared to traditional students, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. It all boils down to slightly more research—and in some cases, getting over your fear of cold calling.
A decade ago, the reputation of online degrees was questionable at best. Some blame the stigma on "diploma mills"—online organizations disguised as higher education institutions, known for offering unaccredited academic degrees to anyone willing to pay. These days, employers and students alike rarely question the quality of online programs—not only because they’ve grown used to spotting illegitimate ones, but also due to the growing number of distance education options offered by top-ranked and well-respected schools.
According to a 2018 report from the Urban Institute, 31 percent of students enrolled in master’s programs during the 2016 academic year reported that their classes were delivered entirely online, while 21 percent of master’s students reported taking at least some online courses.
The facts aren’t surprising, particularly when considering the many benefits that come with distance learning. For those who still need to juggle working and going back to school, the flexibility of online programs provides them with the opportunity to earn their degree as they continue to work and grow professionally. It’s an environment that challenges students to be proactive and self-directed, and engage with all aspects of their learning virtually. The exception here, of course, being grad school internships.
Of graduate programs that categorize internships as a degree requirement, the experience is often one that helps students gain the work experience needed for certain types of professional credentials or licensure. Other students may arrange and complete a relevant internship on their own as a means of gaining the practical industry experience that, come graduation, can propel them to the top of the resume pile.
While it’s not uncommon for online programs to provide internship placements for their students, provided placement isn’t always an option for distance learners. It can be a downside, especially when considering that students in traditional programs have a wealth of resources at hand when researching potential internships, whether networking in-person with school staff or making use of their proximity to the career center or job boards at their school.
So, yes, finding an internship as an online student may require slightly more time and effort, but that doesn’t mean that the process is impossible. If you have an idea of the kind of internship you’d prefer as well as a freshly customized resume, you’re already halfway there. Here’s how to get started on your path for figuring out where to apply.
Cast a wide net
From computer science and social work to physician assistant studies, students across a variety of master’s programs will find a vast assortment of federal internships through USAJOBS, which posts both paid and unpaid opportunities. You can also turn to other aggregator job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster, which list internships—in government and otherwise—within the distance of where you live or any area you’d be willing to relocate to. Apply for everything that looks like it might be a fit. It’s always better to have more options than fewer.
Take advantage of social media
Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are useful for catching up on which of your high school classmates are engaged and which college friend just opened a Kombucha brewery. Still, they’re also excellent tools for networking and discovering internships. This method works best when you treat all of your pages as professional profiles, including information about your education, work experience, skills, and interests.
Don’t limit yourself to the standard platforms, either. Other lesser-known apps may also help optimize your internship search. Do you have an upcoming informational interview with an executive, or just happen to be in the same room as someone you’d like to meet in your field? Accompany, a particularly schmooze-centric app, is ideal for learning everything you need to know about an industry big shot before you approach them. This app also allows you to add your own notes on individuals or create new files on people you’re keeping tabs on, professionally speaking.
Contact employers directly
Cold-calling a company or organization you’re interested in interning for may seem intimidating, but you shouldn’t let the pressure of a ‘salesy’ conversation get in the way of landing the right opportunity. Try instead to see the experience as an opportunity to create a quality dialogue between you and a prospective employer. It may also be helpful to know that many companies—especially those of the smaller variety—don’t typically hear from students in this way, which later may help you stand among a pile of internship applications.
When calling, try to get in touch with the person who would supervise the internship you’ve got your eye on instead of connecting with HR. Be prepared to give a brief overview of your skills. From here, make your case as to why you’d be of value as an intern by providing clear examples of how you’ve successfully applied your skills in other roles. Anticipate objections and don’t give up if you can’t get through. And remember, this phone call stands as a means to determine whether an organization is as much of a fit for you as you would be for it.
If possible, consider in-person networking
If your school’s within a reasonable distance of where you live, consider attending on-campus job fairs or networking events. Chances are, you’ll also live within distance of conferences or meetups hosted by professional associations in your field—think NASW for social work students or the American Management Association for MBA students. Even if you don’t land an internship through this route, you’ll likely meet a variety of important, influential people. And better still, you never know if a connection could turn into an opportunity down the road.
Consult your peers
If you happen to know that the internship that you want is one that's available annually, talk to students who were able to nab it in previous years. As for how to find them, it may take a bit of legwork—sometimes, as general as asking students in your program if they know anyone who’s completed a specific type of internship. You could also consider reaching out to your school’s career center for similar insight on who to contact.
Another way to connect with students who’ve experienced your internship of choice is through LinkedIn’s deep (and sometimes confusing) search capabilities. The site’s ‘people’ search category will automatically sort your search results for LinkedIn user profiles with names, job descriptions, or other factors related to your search keyword. It’s ‘current company’ filter lets you narrow down your results based on where users work, which is great if you're trying to connect with someone who’s currently working in your desired internship role. If they accept your request to connect, consider asking them how they landed their spot in the internship and what they think of the experience so far.
Know when to ask for help
Need more leads? Get in touch with your professors, family, former employers, coaches, friends, parents of friends, parents of friends’ friends—anyone and everyone you can think of—and ask for contacts related to internships in your area and field of interest. Once again, your school’s career center is another great tool to utilize when looking for networks of alumni that you can tap into for connections, networking events, and even potential informational interviews.
If you do land on an internship through this route and decide to apply, you’ll likely have someone at the company or organization who will be willing to offer you a glowing recommendation. As a grad student, you already know that recommendations go a long way—and that the power of word of mouth is something you should never underestimate.
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