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Tips for Successful College Internships

For the Student

Remember that you are at the site at the tolerance of the sponsor. Sponsors don’t have to take on interns. They generally do it out of commitment to their fields and a desire to be helpful. If they are taking their role seriously, you are extra work for them.

If you want your end of the bargain to work well, here are some tips from students who came away from their internships with good experience, good relationships, and good recommendations:

  • Treat the internship as seriously as you would any job. Show up on time. Dress appropriately and neatly. Respect the rules. Do whatever is assigned with enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence.
  • Do your homework. Be an active, engaged learner. Don’t wait to be fed information. Read the company annual report and web site. Read up on the field. Then ask thoughtful questions.
  • Take direction. You may think you know better. At least 99.9 percent of the time you don’t. Your sponsor sees a larger picture than you do. If you have suggestions, phrase them as a question, not as a criticism. Say, “What led you to decide to do the job this way?” not “It would be better if you did it my way.” If you think you have an innovative idea, talk privately with your supervisor about it.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you don’t know what to do next or if you are stuck, it’s better to ask than to assume. Put any ego that may be hanging around on the shelf. It’s far better to look a little dumb than to make an expensive mistake or to make extra work for someone else.
  • If you are uncomfortable with anything you are asked to do, ask to speak privately to your supervisor about it. If you can’t resolve it, involve your student internship office.
  • Remember that manners do count in the work world, especially if you are working with people who are considerably older than you are. Take the time to write a thoughtful thank-you note to your supervisor and the company CEO at the end of the term.
  • Do the paperwork and do it in a timely way. Getting your college credits depends on it. Your college internship office wants to know what went well and what didn’t so they can continually improve the opportunities for other students.


For a student, success in an internship can be measured in many ways. For some it is affirmation that “Yes. This is the field of my dreams.” For some, it is the discovery of new and even more interesting applications for a major. For still others, it is the realization that “No. This really isn’t for me and I’m glad I found out in time to go in another direction.” All of these outcomes are successes. In each case, the student is getting information that will help with career decisions.

For a sponsor, success is less tangible, but no less important. Success is the satisfaction of having shared something that is important to you with an interested young person. Success is knowing you have helped someone grow and make an important decision. Success is having built a mentoring relationship that sometimes pays off with the student coming back to work with you. Success is bridging the present with the future.

Tips for Successful College Internships

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Tips for Successful College Internships. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.