In May, internship professionals of the Internship-Net listserv, defined an academic internship "as a form of experiential education that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skill development in a professional setting."
With the economy still in a major recession and college graduates having a hard time finding job placement, the power of internships have become an integral part of a students experience at a university.
Anita Casper, internship coordinator for Lock Haven University, said internships provide many benefits for students.
"Internships allow students to apply their coursework in a real-world setting, which allows them to see the relevance of what they are studying," Casper said. "Students gain professional skills, enhance their communication skills, start to network for future employment, and help students determine whether it's a good career fit for them in that industry or field."
In 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 50 percent of graduating students had held internships, up from the 17 percent shown in a 1992 study by Northwestern University.
Colin Puskaritz, a graduate of Lycoming College, worked two internships while a student at Lycoming College and said that both were helpful to his career.
"I was an intern at the Williamsport-Lycoming Industrial Modernization Center and Keystone Innovation Zone; my second was at Discovery Machine," Puskaritz said
"I gained valuable experience in my planning, marketing, writing and interpersonal skills. More importantly, I learned how to use what I learned in college in the real world, which was very important," Puskaritz said.
After graduating, Puskaritz was offered a job with his second internship, Discovery Machine, where he now is a sales consultant.
"Above all, students need to recognize that they need to continually strive to experience and learn new things because that is how they will be successful," Puskaritz said.
And as for unpaid versus paid internships, Puskaritz said that "you cannot boast making $10 an hour on a resume, but you can emphasize all of the important things you learned and accomplished throughout the internship."
Amanda Keiffer, a Lock Haven University graduate, interned at a number of businesses, which she said gave her plenty of responsibilities that helped her potential employers know what exactly she was capable of and what she already had accomplished in the start of her career.
"Remember that experience is the key to opening the door in today's job market and stay open-minded and take opportunities when they come to you, no matter how small they seem," Keiffer said.
Keiffer noted that knowledge gained in the classroom is just as useful as that in the work force.
"I was given the opportunity to use the principles I learned in the classroom and applied them to real-world problems. You can't just turn to the back of the book and see if your answer is correct in the real-world," Keiffer said. "You have to really work at the problem and use the knowledge you have to answer it, and if you don't have that knowledge you research it."
Keiffer did so well as an intern at SF & Co. in 2009, that the company presented her with a full-time position at its State College office after her internship had ended.
"I'm now involved with both the auditing and tax return prep sides of public accounting," Keiffer said. "I am very fortunate to have had the opportunities that I've had presented to me and I'm thankful to have taken them as they have helped shaped me into the person I am."
William Lloyd, an associate professor of accounting at Lock Haven University, said that students need to remember that it's a competitive job market and they really need to differentiate themselves from their peers.
"If students do not complete an internship, they will be at a severe disadvantage. These days, it is very difficult to get a job without an internship, not impossible, but difficult," Lloyd said.
Lloyd also said that students should not depend solely on paid internships because it needs to come down to the quality of the jobs they are being asked to do.
"I know of unpaid internships that provide better experience, better growth opportunities, and are more valuable to employers than some paid internships," Lloyd said. "The quality of the internship is the defining factor along with what the student's goals are."
Nina Cline, a senior at Lycoming College and intern at the Lycoming County Juvenile Probation Office, said that internships are important because learning it in a classroom environment is much different than actually experiencing it.
"It is being a part of the everyday experiences for particular jobs that makes you feel you have learned something, it shows you what you still need to learn, or whether or not the area in which you are interning is where you want to be once you graduate," Cline said.