Internships can help study abroad students transition to a full-time career.
Why are internships important?
What’s more important — education or work experience? When job candidates enter the job market, these are the two biggest considerations employers ask about. They are both pieces of the same puzzle; with one of them, you unlock several career pathways, but with both, you have a whole world of possibilities.
Internships can give you the best of both worlds. At their best, internships can be an invaluable learning experience in an expectation-free environment and a taste of relevant work experience in your field. At a time in your life when it can be hard to gain experience, internships can give you just that so you’re ready to embark on your career right out of school.
Below are a few additional benefits you’ll find through your internship program:
When an employer looks at your resume, they aren’t looking for your 3.5 GPA, your encyclopedia of knowledge, or your high work ethic (although they all deserve consideration) — what they’re looking for is that you have a degree and the work experience to support it. It’s not easy finding time to get work experience during your study abroad, but that’s where internships come in. Your internship can be an extension of your education and give you the experience you need to transition from college to a full-time career.
The real world, unlike a classroom, is an unpredictable environment. How will you react when faced with a difficult team member? Will you be able to perform under strict deadlines? Facing unfamiliar situations will force you to grow in new ways. An internship doesn’t carry the weight of a full-time job and provides a place where you can learn how you operate in a judgment-free environment.
Internships can be a great way to get your foot in the door at a company. Many of the biggest companies in the U.S. (Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) use internships to seek out high-performing students to add to their teams. Message recruiters through LinkedIn, connect with fellow interns, or build relationships with your direct managers during your internship. Every connection you make can be a difference in your career.
Skill set expansion
Where hard skills are learned in the classroom, soft skills are learned through experience. Soft skills, otherwise known as interpersonal skills, include teamwork, communication, and time management, among others. Nearly every eligible student out of school has a similar technical skill set — they’ve all learned the same things through their programs. What separates them, then, are the skills they’ve developed through experience.
How to find the right internship
For international students, internships can serve a number of purposes. For some, they can help strengthen career prospects; for others, they’re a means to help fund their studies. With that in mind, finding what the “right” internship is will look different for every student.
Keep things in perspective
Money is a constant temptation, but it’s important that you don’t fall into the trap of lucrative internships over better ones. Your internship, first and foremost, should be used as an environment to promote career advancement. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting an internship:
- Does your internship provide sufficient networking opportunities?
- Does your host company offer a promise of future employment?
- Will you be comfortable, or will you be forced outside your comfort zone?
- Is it a paid or unpaid internship?
Network through LinkedIn
Think of LinkedIn as your own personal online billboard. You can promote yourself however you want and research for positions through not only your own network, but through an extensive search feature in the app itself. Getting noticed is a matter of how much you’re willing to put into it — the more depth you give your profile, the more likely you are to have someone notice you.
For best results, we recommend a proactive approach. Get in touch with recruiters at the companies you’re applying to. If you’ve already sent in your application, notifying recruiters can be a personal touch that helps you stand out and jump the line ahead of other candidates.
And make sure your online profile and resume are both well-organized and free of mistakes. This information will often be a company's first impression of you.
Contact your school
Finding an internship through your school can be as simple as asking your advisor about upcoming networking events or connections. Schools host networking events that bring recruiters from leading companies in the area to meet prospective students. They can be a great opportunity to build your network, as well as get your resume in the hands of recruiters. Make sure to have several copies of your resume printed just in case.
What internships are available to international students?
This can be a tricky question to answer. Depending on your type of visa, you might be eligible/ineligible for different internships. As F-1 student visa holders are the most common international students, for the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing on their eligibility.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) includes major-specific work studies, internships, or co-op programs that are done as part of your undergraduate or graduate studies (but not after). Students with an F-1 visa are eligible to participate in a CPT internship on a part-time or full-time basis for up to 12 months.
CPT internships are unique in that they can look different depending on your program. There are required CPT internships that are program-specific work/study programs and are a prerequisite for graduation. On the other hand, some CPT is optional and not required by your major, but you must be given credit for participating.
CPT is more time-sensitive than OPT (Optional Practical Training, see below) but has the benefit of fitting more seamlessly into your academic schedule. You can only participate in CPT before graduation.
Depending on your college or university, the completion of a CPT program may be a requirement of your program.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
If you’re an F-1 visa student, you can work up to 12 months in your field of study through OPT (with STEM students being eligible for a 24-month OPT extension). As the name suggests, OPT internships are optional work-study programs that fall under a more traditional type of “work” experience. Where CPT has limitations due to being part of your curriculum, OPT gives you the ability to find employment at a company of your choosing.
As opposed to a CPT internship, which must be done before graduation, you can complete your OPT before or after you graduate. If you plan it just right, you can participate in both OPT and CPT, as long as the total length of your CPT is less than 12 months.
Further restrictions apply, so do your research before making an informed decision. See “Additional resources” below for some helpful information.
Shorelight Career Premium
Shorelight is a U.S.–based online marketplace that connects international students, universities, and service providers. Shorelight Career Premium program is an add-on to Shorelight’s services that enable students to earn certificates, attend workshops, and apply for virtual internships. These internships don’t fall under the same banner as an OPT or CPT but are additional tools you can use to bolster your resume during your studies.
Career Premium serves the dual purpose of teaching you skills needed in business, engineering, and tech while connecting you with more than 12,000 companies for entry-level positions. You can get exclusive training for certifications in programs such as Python and Java, Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft Azure, machine learning, artificial intelligence, project management, and more.
Students who have participated in Career Premium have found work at companies including Google, Microsoft, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Tesla, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
What do you need before applying for an internship?
Now that you know what to expect and why internships are so important, it’s time you get things in order. As an international student, you are required to provide proof of eligibility by submitting several documents. These requirements don’t apply to all students, however, so it’s best to meet with your designated school official (DSO) beforehand to get you on track.
The documents you need to submit may include the following (requirements vary):
- Provide documents to request an I-20 Form (OPT-specific)
- Ask your DSO to submit a recommendation letter
- Upon approval of eligibility, file Form I-765 for OPT
- Provide up-to-date passport photos
- Provide your most recent I-94 Form
- Provide photos of any CPT/OPT you’ve done prior
- Provide an unofficial transcript
Your eligibility for an OPT or CPT is contingent upon your maintaining your F-1 visa status. You will also be required to submit a copy of your F-1 visa — don’t worry; a recently expired visa is acceptable as well.
- For more information on internships and work-study, review this article.
- If you want to learn more about CPT and OPT internships, we highly recommend that you read this.
- For details about applying for an OPT, visit here.
- And for general information on how to get your U.S. student visa, check out this article.
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