As a college and graduate student, I have been told that internships are important and can open crucial doors for my career. “Get an internship and all the doors will be open,” they said. But is it really that simple and straightforward?  I am a full-time graduate student with an internship and a part time job who is trying to be a human and do all the other things like sleep, make and eat healthy food, exercise regularly, spend time with my friends and family, play with my cat, be a good partner, sister, daughter, etc. If your life is anything like mine, it may feel like it’s just a big to-do list and not something that you have time to be intentional about. So, how do we resist the tendency to just follow the mundane routine of simply checking things off the to-do list?  Here are 7 tips that will help you make the best of your internship experience while being a busy student.

1.Be clear about your expectations.

Not all internships are alike. Before you start your internship, be clear about your intentions. Are you trying to learn more about this field, trying to get a job at the company, or simply looking to learn more about different options that exist? During my time in college and graduate school, I held a number of internships, all of which have taught me something. Some taught me that direct service in crisis situations were not for me, while others steered me in unexpected directions. I knew that I wanted to learn more about grantmaking and grant writing when applying for this position, but I had no idea that I would come to enjoy the field of philanthropy so much.

2. Allow yourself to be surprised.

Clear expectations can give you some direction, but be sure to leave room for the unexpected. Do your research and be clear about what you want, but be open to new ideas and possibilities. You don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t know much about foundations before my internship at The Healing Trust, but I’ve learned a lot about philanthropy and about myself. Internships are the perfect time to let yourself be surprised.

3. Invest in Relationships.

In addition to focusing on building relationships with people that can hire you, build relationships with your fellow interns and cohort. Your peers will grow with you and may be potential contacts and references in the future. Build bridges and remember to consider long-term needs.

4. Listen.

You don’t know everything yet. You may be an expert in some things, but you are not an expert in all things. Own the skills that you currently have and be open to learning from the people who have been doing the work for longer. Give serious consideration to the feedback you receive and hold on to what is useful.  Learn what to do and also what not to do. There is always a lesson to be learned.

5. Experiment.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try new projects and ask questions. Your internship is a time of possibilities, so allow yourself to be courageous and to make mistakes. Your mistakes may be some of your best teachers. None of us like making mistakes, but I am learning that mistakes are part of doing the work. The only way to never make a mistake is to never do anything.  Always try your best, but don’t let the fear of mistakes doesn’t keep you from trying and doing new things.

6. Reflect.

Make time to reflect intentionally on the internship. Ask yourself if you are doing your best and if you can see yourself working at a similar organization.  Ask for feedback and evaluate your performance to see what you can improve. Work with your supervisor to create a learning or development plan and be clear on what you want to learn and how you would like to improve.  Invest in yourself and in your professional development. You are your biggest asset.

7. Be Curious.

Have the courage to ask the hard questions. You bring fresh eyes to the organization –use that lens to question what others may take for granted and suggest new ideas.

As cliché as this might sounds, you will never be this young and this free. Enjoy your time as an intern. Practice and hone your skills. Learn from your peers and those who know more than you.

Learn more about The Healing Trust’s internship opportunities.


Judith Clerjeune is a third year student at Vanderbilt Divinity School.