Building on an internship experience can help you take the next step toward your future. Internships give valuable work experience, which can be one factor in making important college and career decisions.
Some students look at their internship experience as “grunt” work and don’t take the time to reflect on what was learned or how the experience may have changed their outlook. But when taken advantage of, internships can provide you with valuable lessons.
If you are able to look at the experience not as a series of day-to-day tasks but as a way to demonstrate how you tackled problems and found solutions that worked in the real world, the reflections you generate can be great content for your college admission essay.
Consider your internship as a jumping off point to examine a specific aspect of your experience, such as a unique moment, a lesson learned, a problem solved, or a point of view that changed; describe the impact this experience had on you.
Using Your Internship for Your College Essay
It is important to be specific when writing your college essay. You can use the following tropes as a way to think about your internship experience:
Overcoming a Challenge
Talking about how you overcame a challenge can illustrate many things about your personality, such as your grit, your ability to persevere, to grow, and to explore new possibilities. If you faced a challenge at your internship, it can provide you with an anecdote that allows you to describe those strengths.
For instance, a student intern at a community newspaper was given many assignments covering local school and community events. As a senior, she was also involved in organizing graduation activities — on top of completing all of her class assignments. She was feeling overwhelmed. In discussing this with her internship coordinator, she drew up a list of priorities and then talked to her editor about the situation: They agreed that some events did not need to be covered. She was also able to cut back on some of the event planning around graduation. In her college essay, she used these experiences to discuss the lessons she learned about the value of prioritization and time management.
Finding a Solution to a Problem
This is a great way to write about your problem-solving skills. Think about a time when you had to come up with a creative solution at your internship and the knowledge you gained from that experience.
For example, a student who interned at a large sports retailer was asked by his manager to review the company’s website and social media presence to see how the store could attract more young people. He quickly saw that the website and Facebook page were “old-fashioned,” but he did not want to criticize it. Instead, he worked on a proposal for ways the company could change its online presence to appeal to a younger demographic and shared it with his manager. As a result, his manager asked him to work with the web designer to help redesign the store’s social media profile. In his college essay, the student was able to show how his positive suggestions led to change and solved a problem.
Working Through an Emotional Experience
Talking about an emotional experience can bring your college application to life and enable admissions officers to get to know you more. Consider whether you had to work through complicated feelings at your internship to get the job done and remain professional; this may be a good topic for an essay.
One student who interned with a veterinary technician found that he had strong feelings when he assisted in euthanizing an animal. He worked through his feelings by talking with his supervisor and mentor, sharing his experience with other interns, and reading about animal care. In his college essay, he was able to write about this work and how his perspective changed.
Speaking Up to Make a Change
As an intern, you may be the most junior person at the company or organization, so voicing your opinion can be intimidating. If you took a stand for what you believed in, this may be a topic to explore in your application.
One student who interned at a computer company was very busy with routine work each day and did not feel part of the team. She believed that she could make more of a contribution if she were an active team member. She talked with her mentor who helped her identify her concerns, and was then able to share them with her team leader. They were both satisfied with the conversation because it resulted in the intern playing a more active role at the company. In her college essay, the intern was able to show how both she and the company gained by her active team participation.
Tips to Help You See the Big Picture
The following are tips that will help you reflect on your internship experience as a whole:
Update your resume. Taking the time to describe your internship for your resume will help you see what you gained from your experience.
Read through blog posts or tweets you wrote while at your internship. This can help you jog your memory in terms of what to write. If you are starting an internship now, try to keep a record of what you do.
When it is time for you to tackle the college essay, not only will you have interesting content, but you will show what you learned from the experience.
Remember, it is not where you interned, but rather what you experienced. Use what you were able to take away from that experience and how it has influenced your decisions and choices going forward to develop a strong college essay. Moreover, these experiences can be the basis for a great college interview conversation.
Further Reading on Noodle
What Admissions Officers Want in a College Applicant
Get Your Resume Internship Ready
How to Make the Best of a Bad Internship Experience
Turning a High School Internship Into a College Essay. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from EdWeek
The scholarship essay is a variation on the Five Paragraph Essay that you learned in fifth grade. It has a basic structure with a little bit of a difference: you need to write with the application specifications in mind. Here are some tips.
Tell your story. Remember to tell that story in the context of the application. For example, if the scholarship is for “leaders,” highlight experiences in which you’ve shown leadership qualities, like ability to work with groups and motivate people toward a common goal; good judgment and organization; putting principles and the greater good above one’s self. You may have done this in your volunteer activities, in your dorm, or in your personal life. Give examples. Be honest.
Remember your audience. The committee members reading this essay are looking for candidates who best meet the spirit of the donors’ intent. That’s why it’s important to read the application carefully, and write to the application. You might also research the donor. His or her background may give you some insights into their motivation for funding the scholarship, and you may be able to speak to that in your essay.
Be authentic. Try to write it like you’d say it. Be respectful, but not overly formal. Be yourself, but not overly casual. Strike the right tone. Read this essay out loud several times to some different people—including older people, and get feedback.
Do several revisions. Let the essay sit for 48 hours and come back to it and revise.
And did we mention? Proofread, proofread, proofread!
The Basic Outline
First Paragraph: Introduce yourself and tell in brief, why you feel qualified for the scholarship. Mention hometown and major.
Second paragraph: Begin to tell your story in the context of the scholarship. How do your qualities fit the application requirements? Be specific.
Third paragraph: A little deeper background. How have you gotten to this point? Have you overcome any obstacles, physical, financial, personal? Don’t go too deeply into a hard luck story, but if you have succeeded against some kind of tough odds, you should mention this. This is also the place to put anything unusual or interesting in your background that might stand out. Here you might also talk about your long-term plans and why, as well as how you came to those goals.
Fourth paragraph: How would this scholarship affect your studies? What would it help you do and how would it help you reach your goals?
Fifth paragraph: Summarize and reiterate your qualifications and make the committee comfortable with giving you the scholarship. Remember that it makes the committee members look good when they pick a winning candidate who reflects well on the donor and UMass!