Virginia Tech®home

Get experience

Types of experience, and experiences of VT undergrads:

  • Types of experience vary by career goal and major. Many types of experience have value.
  • Set a goal to get more than one type of experience. 
  • 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 your next experience.
  • We can help you navigate the search process through advising.
  • 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 students who are freshmen, others require a different academic level.
  • See a href="/content/career_vt_edu/en/experience/Internships.html">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.
  • For non-academic-credit internships for undergraduates, there are enrollment options for students through the undergraduate Cooperative Education and Internship Program (CEIP).
  • In CPD, 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.
  • Campus internEXP are opportunites for paid part-time internships for undergraduate students to work for Virginia Tech offices.
  • Co-op is short for cooperative education. At Virginia Tech, our program for undergraduate students is called CEIP, which stands for Cooperative Education and Internship Program which is for undergraduate students.
  • There are enrollment options for undergraduate students who have part-time or full-time work, and paid or unpaid positions. Learn more about the undergraduate Cooperative Education and Internship Program (CEIP).
  • For graduate students: The Graduate School administers cooperative education for graduate students. We suggest searching the Graduate School website because the web URL for this program has changed periodically.
  • Volunteering can be a great way to get a foot in the door of an organization or career field. You can do volunteer work 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 could 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.
  • Field study is typically done through your academic department, for academic credit, and is sometimes required for certain majors. Consult your academic department within your college to see if field studies are offered or required.
  • Field study typically involves 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.
  • Search the Virginia Tech website for "field study" and you'll find links to field study information for a variety of majors and colleges.
  • Undergraduate research could be a one-on-one arrangement between you and a faculty member, usually in your academic department, that might be for academic credit. There are also publicized undergrad research programs in the univerity. Additionally, organizations external to the university, such as research centers, offer undergraduate research opportunities.
  • How to find opportunties:
    • The Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech is a comprehensive resource for VT students.
    • Professors might advertise undergraduate research opportunities, but don't wait for this to happen. You can take the initiative to approach professors whose research topics interest you.
    • Read the websites of your college and your academic department.
    • External to the university: Research centers (which could 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 seek 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.
  • Part-time and summer work can be important ways 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 your next experience.
  • 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, an event planner, or budget manager. The important things are what you accomplish, what you learn (including from mistakes!), 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. Go beyond simply 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 provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to have paid, para-professional experience.
  • We provide early and ongoing training, and students are paid for 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 can apply for our Peer Career Advisor program.
  • Qualified graduate students can apply to gain experience through graduate practica and internships or through our graduate assistantship.

We survey new VT graduates to learn their first destination after the undergrad degree. We ask the types of experience they had during college that they considered to be career-related. (They could check all that apply.)

University-wide (from most recent report):

  • 23% volunteering
  • 30% part-time job
  • 29% summer job
  • 14% unpaid internship
  • 53% paid internship
  • 5% co-op
  • 21% undergraduate research
  • 10% field study

For majors and colleges:

Need sources to find experience?

Learn more about internships:

Need search and application skills?

Need professional attire?

Need advising? Have questions?