Five Lessons I Learned by Applying for a Summer Internship

Journalism summer internships aren’t very difficult to come by if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  But if you’re lucky like me and have mentors left and right, it’s a really stressful process. Everyone wants to help but ends up pointing you in a different direction. This past Thursday I applied for an internship I had stumbled upon a week before.  Here are five things I thought every journalism student should consider if they ever find themselves in my shoes.

Start early. The whole “I do my best work under pressure” b.s. is just that. Bullshit. If you really want an internship, start looking in the summer and continue to do so during the semester. Make an Excel spreadsheet (lots of internships want people who can use it!) to keep track of what you’ve already applied for and what you’ll get in return (school credit or cash?).  Have your resume and clips ready. If you don’t know how to write a cover letter (like me), ask for help. If you don’t have clips, write good stuff and get it published. Pick up the phone and call the internship coordinators or the human resources departments if the information isn’t already online.  Sometimes they’ll hang up on you, sometimes they’ll be rude but if you want to be a journalist, you’re going to have to get used to it.

Nothing is beneath you. It’s surprising how many people you’ll meet who think their first internship will be at The New York Times. Like with almost all career paths, you’re going to have to start at the bottom (I’ve resisted making a Drake reference here, FYI). No matter how much prior experience you had in high school and no matter how involved you are at your campus news outlet, you’ve still never worked in a real, professional newsroom. But that isn’t to say you should underestimate yourself and not apply to any big news outlets. Just keep your options open. Big or small, you’ll learn a lot.

Know what you’re getting into. I just recently found out what a “for credit” internship really is. When you take a “for credit” internship, it means that you’re paying your university to accept your internship the way you would pay for a summer class. You’re paying to get experience. You’re paying your school so that someone else can teach you how to be a journalist. Everyone has different views on this system but just know that’s what it means. But for a strong, convincing opinion against it, click here.

Network the hell out of everything and everyone. If you go to an awesome j-school like me, you’ll find that everyone knows someone in a high place. Don’t for a second think—no matter what your major is—that you can get by in college without getting close to at least one professor. They’re not just the people who determine your grades at the end of the semester. This isn’t high school. They’re real people who have been in the real world and where you are right now.  They know things and they know people.  In my three semesters I’ve found that you don’t have to be the star student with all A’s (although sometimes it helps) for a professor to like you. But you do have to care about the work that you do. Your success is defined by how much you learn from your struggles. Sometimes you have to let people see you fail. And then show them you can get up and go at it again.

Your major does not and will not define your life. It took me a long time to understand that majoring in journalism doesn’t mean you have to work in journalism for the rest of your life. Internships are a great way to figure out if you really do want to be a journalist. However, the journalism major isn’t just about learning to write. Photography, videography, interviewing and generally connecting with people are extremely valuable skills that can carry you a long way.  So if the description of the journalism internship doesn’t excite you,  that’s okay. Look for things that do excite you. You’ll always love your work if actually enjoy doing it.

So with that, God speed my friends. I hope this helps but not so much that you get picked over me for an internship (kidding).

Not really.

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