Internships become the new job requirement

Kristin Hayes, middle, learns the ropes from Maria Galante at a group home for developmentally disabled adults, as part of a cooperative education program at Stony Brook University.

By the time most kids are in high school, they’ve probably heard some career advice along these lines: get into a good college, pick a marketable major, keep those grades up, and you'll land a good job. But that doesn't quite cover it anymore. 

In a survey out today from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, employers said what matters most to them actually happens outside the classroom.

“Internships came back as the most important thing that employers look for when evaluating a recent college graduate,” says Dan Berrett, senior reporter at the Chronicle. “More important than where they went to college, the major they pursued, and even their grade point average.”

Colleges have been listening. This year the State University of New York, or SUNY, system is piloting cooperative education on nine of its campuses. In co-ops, students work in paid jobs with faculty supervision and earn credit toward their degrees.

“Our goal is that all 465,000 students who enroll annually at SUNY have some sort of experiential education experience,” says SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

Kristin Hayes is one of the first students at Stony Brook University, on Long Island, to do a co-op. She’ll work part-time helping care for disabled adults at a group home run by the non-profit YAI Network. Hayes is a biology major and plans to apply to graduate school to become a physician’s assistant.

“To be a competitive applicant, you really need to have a variety of experience,” she says. “I really wanted to get more experience in the field.”

David Carter wishes he’d followed his professors’ advice to do an internship in college. He graduated two years ago from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he studied mechanical engineering. In spite of good grades and a practical major, Carter hasn’t been able to find work.

“If I had done an internship, then I wouldn’t have been sitting on my thumbs the last two years, trying to find a job,” he says.

The numbers back him up. In a recent student survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 63 percent of paid interns in the class of 2012 had at least one job offer when they graduated. Of those who did no internship, only about 40 percent had an offer.

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About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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