Understand Internships: Learning by Doing
On the job experience is sometimes just as important as your education. For some careers it's even more important as the skill set becomes more and more specialized. The work experience that internships provide will help you learn what it’s really like to work in that profession. In many cases, you can learn by doing, build your professional network, and develop a portfolio of work.
An internship that pays well and provides solid career experience is the gold standard for how to spend your summer. There are excellent opportunities available. For example, the website of the National Science Foundation Science & Technology Centers lists internships that offer hands-on research and mentoring by top faculty, in cutting-edge fields like nanobiotechnology. Google Inc., CNN, Microsoft Corporation, National Public Radio, and many other exciting organizations offer chances for high school and college students to get real experience in their respective fields.
Interships are temporary positions. This gives you another great reason to try. You can experience a variety of careers that interest you, and if they don't work out as you imagined, move on and try another. Even very low-paying (or non-paying) internships can be beneficial in terms of experience and even academic credit. You're making contacts, developing skills, and generally making yourself more hirable. The long-range benefit can be huge.
On the flip-side, some interns find that they're not really getting the industry experience they expected, but are glorified gophers. Each situation is different. Learn from them.
When considering an internship position, ask yourself if the work experience is worth it now and in the long run? If the pay is low (or there is no pay), what will I have to show from the experience? Is there a real opportunity to roll up my sleeves and be a contributing team member on a worthwhile project?
Here are more resources to learn about internship opportunities: