There are MANY ways to get career-related experience during college.

of VT graduates had more than one type of career related experience during college.

Even so, over 1/3 wished they'd gotten more!

Employers comparing graduating seniors as job candidates expect you to have experience outside the classroom.

First year is not too early to start. Look for volunteer work, a part-time or summer job that will be a stepping stone to something more competitive later.

Types of opportunities available vary by career field.

Infographic showing the types of career-related experiences had by students.
  • Externships can be a bridge between exploring career options and getting a look at a real world environment. They may be short-term or long-term in duration: a few hours to a few days, or perhaps a few hours per week over a semester or year (similar to an internship). The extern would have a pre-arranged time to spend at a work environment to watch and learn from people in the career field or type of work environment.
  • Individuals and organizations who host externs are contributing their valuable time to give you a free learning experience. Typically you neither receive compensation nor do you pay for the learning experience. Externships are mostly for the purpose of learning more about a career field or work environment, but if you make a very good impression on the people you meet, it could open the door to another experience (internship, co-op, summer job, etc) later. 
  • Some organizations specifically advertise externships. However, students may take the initiative to arrange an externship by contacting organizations and personnel.
  • There are similarities between externships and shadowing; so sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. 
  • Shadowing, like externships, can be a bridge between exploring career options and getting a look at a real world environment. Shadowing refers to spending time with a professional on the job for the purpose of observing and learning.
  • Shadowing could be a one-time experience for a few hours or a day; or it could be a multiple-session experience over a span of time.
  • Shadowing does not involve doing work-related tasks because the shadower does not have the qualifications. Shadowing could involve being present during client or patient interactions, so requires a high level of professional behavior. Shadowing is often done by students who wish to enter a medical profession; the student would observe a physician or physical therapist or other health professional to learn how they interact with patients.
  • Shadowing could be done in any career setting in which the the professional would permit this, and in which rules of confidentiality would not be violated.
  • Students who wish to shadow must take the initiative to contact professionals and request to shadow. The professional is doing a favor to allow a student to shadow; the professional would have no need to advertise this and the professional receives no benefit other than the satisfaction of helping to educate a potential future professional.
  • There are similarities between externships and shadowing; so sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.
  • Internships are usually one-term experiences and are often in the summer, though not always.
  • Internships can be paid or unpaid, full or part-time, and are sometimes for academic credit. These factors vary by career field and employer. 
  • Internship eligibility varies by employer — some offer internships to student who are freshmen, others require a high academic level. 
  • See internship central for complete information!
  • Note that academic credit can only be granted by an academic department, and involves paying tuition. You should make yourself aware of opportunities and requirements in your academic department. 
  • If your undergraduate internship is at least 32 hours per week, either paid or unpaid, and meets other criteria, you may be eligible to enroll in the Cooperative Education and Internship Program; this maintains your student status; you do not earn academic credit, but you do not pay tuition for credit hours; you pay only $75 to the university in lieu of tuition (other university fees may be applicable). 
  • Within Career and Professional Development, we offer opportunities for undergraduate students to gain paid, career-related experience through our Peer Career Advisor program. Qualified graduate students may gain experience through practica and internships or through our graduate assistantship.
  • Co-op is short for cooperative education. At Virginia Tech, our program is called CEIP, which stands for Cooperative Education and Internship Program.
  • These are typically full-time, multi-term work agreements with one employer. For example you might work for your employer the summer after your sophomore year, and the following spring and fall semesters. You might change departments or projects within your organization. 
  • Sometimes a co-op position could be for one term.
  • Co-ops are full-time (at least 32 hours per week), and are not done while taking classes.
  • Most co-ops are paid. However, some students find arrangements for full-time, career-related, unpaid work during fall or spring semesters (such as working for a political campaign), and might enroll in CEIP.
  • Note that some employers use the term co-op to refer to other kinds of work arrangements. Read and listen carefully for these details as you search for co-op positions. 
  • At Virginia Tech, between 2003 to 2015, co-op program enrollment by major/college has been comprised of 82-92% engineering majors and 3-11% business majors. Students in other majors do occasionally enroll in co-op, but many others get their experience in other ways.
  • More about the undergraduate Cooperative Education and Internship Program [CEIP].
  • The Graduate School administers the Graduate Student Cooperative Education Program
  • This is sometimes a way to get a foot in the door of an organization or career field. Volunteer work can be something you do as an individual, or as part of a club or organization.
  • Volunteering can develop skills and experience that you can list on your resume and thus can be a stepping stone to help you get other kinds of experience. Volunteering shows initiative; always a good thing.
  • Volunteering has intrinsic value and can be a source of personal reward. It is also viewed positively by future employers. Consider both the amount of time and your responsibilities in your volunteer work. A volunteer position that spans a semester or a year or longer, involves several hours per week, and allows for increasing responsibility may be just as beneficial as another experience that is labelled as an internship. This will depend on the career field and the nature and scope of your work.
  • These are typically done through your academic department, for academic credit, and are sometimes required for certain majors. Consult your academic department to see if field studies are offered or required.
  • Field studies typically involve direct hands-on experience in a work environment related to your major. There may be structured academic assignments in addition to the hands-on work. 
  • Google "field study" on the Virginia Tech website and you'll find links to field study information in majors including: human development; hospitality and tourism managment; interior design; human nutrition, foods, and exercise; English; geography; political science; residential environment and design; sociology; fashion merchandising; forestry and other majors in the College of Natural Resources and Environment; etc.
  • What: Frequently a one-on-one arrangement between you and a faculty member, usually in your academic department, that may be for academic credit. Increasingly there are formal, ongoing, publicized opportunties within the university that you can find described on your department or college websites. Additionally, organizations external to the university, such as research centers, offer undergraduate research opportunities.
  • How to find opportunties:
    • Professors may advertise undergraduate research opportunities, but don't wait for this to happen. Approach professors whose research topics interest you.
    • Read the websites of your college and your academic department. Many opportunities are formalized and explained online. These opportunities are continuously expanding within the university.
    • The Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech is a comprehensive resource for VT students.
    • External to the university: Research centers (which may be independent or affiliated with other universities, government, nonprofit, and/or for profit organizations) also offer undergraduate research opportunities. Watch for information in your academic department and take initiative to research opportunties related to your interests.
  • Why it's important: Undergraduate research is strongly recommended for students who are thinking about applying to graduate school. It is also excellent experience for students who are not considering graduate school.
  • Majors | fields: While many opportunities are for science and technical majors, opportunities also exist for research in humanities and social sciences. Again, see the Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech.
  • Part-time and summer work can be an important way to get experience.
  • A job does not have to be labelled as an internship or co-op to be valuable. 
  • The value hinges on the job's relevance to your career field or industry, the skills you develop, and the level of responsibility you earn.
  • These can be stepping stones to getting a competitive job or internship later.
  • Leadership in student and community organizations is viewed very favorably by employers, and can be an essential qualification for certain types of work and career paths.
  • You don't have to be president to be a leader. You could be volunteer recruiter, the fundraising chair, and event planner, or budget manager. The important things are what you accomplish and the skills you use and develop.
  • Look for depth. Get involved and take on a role, serve on a committee, run a project or event, or be an officer. Avoid just joining many things. If you graduate having only "member of...," "member of...," repeated on your resume, that won't look substantive.
  • In Career and Professional Development, we walk the talk by providing opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to have paid, para-professional experience. 
  • We provide early and ongoing training, and students are paid for their training hours, in addition to the substantive work they do once trained. We value our student employees!
  • Overview of work and learn opportunities in Career and Professional Development.
  • Undergraduates may apply for our Peer Career Advisor program.
  • Qualified graduate students may gain experience through graduate practica and internships or through our graduate assistantship.