Classes or internships? Which should you focus on while you're in college? Let's dive in.

What’s More Important: Internships or Classes?

As a student, managing your time between classwork and internships can be hard to do. While internships are highly suggested by academic advisors and graduates alike, as a student, you don’t have all the time in the world. You’re already balancing extracurriculars, classwork, group projects, labs, and possibly more. Of course, it would be amazing if you could focus on both classes and internships, but that’s not always the case. 

If you’re worrying about balancing classes and internships in this upcoming semester, don’t worry. Let’s discuss the different benefits of internships and classes, and how to determine what is more important. 

Relevance of Internships

Depending on the specific university you are attending, you may have differing attitudes towards doing internships. While some universities and programs have merely suggested it, others have made it mandatory for graduation by pairing a class with an internship requirement. And that’s for a good reason. 

Gone are the days of graduating and automatically getting job offers. Employers are now looking for people who have valuable job experiences, which you are able to gain through real-work working experience. Through internships, you are able to apply the fundamentals learned in a classroom and mold it to apply to the field you want to pursue. Internships also help expose you to the inner workings and new innovations of a field, which you can’t learn in a classroom lecture setting. Even if your university doesn’t require you to do an internship, many highly suggest it and provide resources through alumni and job boards to help search for one. With internship positions growing more than 15% in the past 5 years, it’s pretty clear doing internships has become the new normal. 

Benefits of Internships 

Internships aren’t a place just to do some work out of the classroom. In fact, it has become one of the most important things on your resume. The Chronicle of Higher Education held a survey of 50,000 employers regarding recent graduate hires, and they found that “employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.”

The main goal for attending university is to get employed, and if internships provide the best path to do so, it seems logical to participate in one. Not only do they help with gaining experience, they also help with building a network. By building a mentorship with senior staff members, you are creating an avenue for new opportunities, even if you don’t stay at that company. From resume help to earning a recommendation, networking helps you to be more noticeable in job searches, which is especially needed in this highly competitive job market. With 85% of jobs filled through networking, mainly through staff recommendations, it’s important to get a head start on building connections as fast as possible. 

Classes vs Internships 

The million dollar question for any student is “Which should I focus my time on: classes or internships?” However, the response may differ from when you may have answered that question in high school. Most students make the mistake of assuming that their old academic strategies carry over to college, which usually means focusing on grades and extracurriculars to build a resume similar to the one you applied to university with. However, this couldn’t be further from the case.

It’s important to note that for most students, a bachelor’s degree is the furthest they’ll go in terms of academic studies. That means that your focus shouldn’t be on maintaining a 4.0 GPA, since employers don’t really care about that compared to universities, but rather experiencing new things you can fit on your resume, such as internships. Classwork should come first, in order to graduate, but if you’re worried about your grade going from an A to a B, then it’s not the end of the world. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you should throw your grades to the wind. Internships are built on the fundamentals you learn in class, so if you don’t understand the concepts, you’ll have a hard time in your internship. Internships are supposed to be a co-requisite to college classes. Without one, you can’t really do the other. If you focus solely on internships, you’ll fail your classes, and even with a long list of experiences, no employer will want to hire you if you flunk out. And if you focus only on classes, you won’t get the experience required to build your resume and network, and you’ll have a tough time after graduation. 

Internships are the best way to gain experience and a strong network, all in a low-risk environment. However, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your classes. Make sure to take stock of your time for this semester, and see how much you can allocate to an internship. Even if you have, say, around 5-10 hours a week available after studying and completing classwork, that’s still more than enough to do certain internships. Use job boards to find an internship that matches up with your class schedule. If you have the time available, and your grades are stable, then doing an internship is the best choice. 

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