Disclaimer: If you are looking for an internship to fulfill a course requirement, be sure you fulfill specific rules and requirements that your individual program might have. The ideas presented here are general thoughts for internship searches.
Many programs require an internship or similar experience to fulfill graduation requirements. However, I strongly recommend seeking out an additional internship experience before you reach the final stage of your program. The summer following your sophomore or junior year is a great time, but other times work, too. The point is to get some experience in a professional setting that can help you learn more about an existing organization or potential career path. There are a few ways to seek these experiences out.
1. Some larger companies and organizations advertise their internships online through websites such as www.idealist.org or through individual university career center websites or job posting boards. This makes these opportunities easy to find but typically extremely competitive. Because they receive a large number of applications, they may have an application deadline of March or earlier for a summer position. Needless to say, you will need to plan ahead to ensure you have all of your proverbial ducks in a row (such as your updated resume, your letters of recommendation, and other requested materials).
2. Other organizations will not advertise on central websites but they will post their positions on their own organization websites. This requires you to do a bit more online legwork to locate them. When I was in school, I routinely visited the websites of organizations and businesses that interested me. This gave me an idea of when their internship (and job) hiring schedule would fall each year and allowed me to plan ahead. A word of caution: Many organizations do not regularly update their websites and may be displaying out-of-date information, so it is always helpful to call the organization to ask if they still have an internship program and if they plan to fill openings in the current year.
3. Okay…drumroll, please! Perhaps the most effective method of locating an internship may be reaching out and making contact with individual organizations. If you are already volunteering with an organization or have a personal contact with someone, then this will be easier. For instance, one of my wonderful college friends developed a good relationship with one of her faculty members who also owned a business in the community. She was able to obtain an internship with the business through that connection. My college professor’s wife had a business, and he recommended me to her for a spring semester internship. During another year, I was working the cash register at a local bookstore when the editor for a local magazine stopped in to make a delivery. I explained that I was a journalism student who was looking for a internship for the upcoming semester. He gave me his card and told me to contact one of his staff members for an interview. I actually think they ended up creating a second internship for me because his staff member also had someone else that I suspect she was about to accept for the position. They ended up accepting us both. By taking a leap and telling the editor my goals, I was able to benefit from that opportunity. However, if you do not have an existing connection, do not let that stop you!
4. Some of the best opportunities are found by going off road, so to speak, and cold calling, emailing, or visiting an organization. One summer during high school, my godsister really wanted to intern for a psychologist. Since she didn’t know of any formal internship openings and she didn’t have any personal connections, she went through the phonebook's list of psychologists with private practices in our hometown and called them until one agreed to let her intern. Many people no longer receive paper copies of phonebooks, however, a website directory version will fulfill the same purpose.
One summer during college, I really wanted to live in a specific rural town in Alabama and work with youth there. I had learned about the community when my university did a service project there one Saturday, however, the university did not have any formal internship or cooperative program there at the time. One weekday, I got in my car, drove to the town, and stopped in at the City Hall. I told them I was looking for potential summer work in town. They suggested I check with the local military college and university. I didn’t have any luck at the military college, but I found a woman at the university who suggested I contact a specific non-profit agency in town. I went to the non-profit agency, spoke with the director, and he told me to apply for a PAID (difficult to find at a non-profit intern program) internship opening he had. He also connected me with a well-known retired school teacher in town who very generously allowed me to live with her for free that summer. (There were basically no apartments in the town.) Between working for a great boss that summer and living with that wonderful lady, that internship proved to be one of the best experiences of my life. Now for a disclaimer: Use your best judgment. Obviously, avoid living with strangers unless you feel you have properly vetted them. Moving on…
This post is a bit longer than I try to aim for, but I hope it has been helpful in giving you the confidence to go out and search for opportunities. Don’t be discouraged if you get several “no” responses before you find a “yes.” I heard no plenty of times, but, in an attempt to keep this post as short as I can, I have omitted them. Also, don’t be discouraged if your internship is unpaid. Many internships are unpaid. The key is to be sure you will actually be learning valuable things about the organization by working in the position. For more on ensuring how to be sure the internship will actually be a valuable use of your precious time, check out Dr. Langworthy's short video, "Ins and Outs of Internships." I have embedded it below for convenience. If money is a key factor, you might consider a part-time internship to also allow for working for pay on the evenings and/or weekends.
May the force be with you!