It is an awkward moment of transition in my life. I am no longer a child, but I don’t consider myself to be an independent adult either. And now, I feel an unspoken pressure to pursue something career-building in between — an internship. 

The opportunity to gain experience in the workforce is a distinctive feature of college. And, with the increasing cost of college and the imminent rise in competition for positions after graduation, it is even more important to take advantage of our options for both paid and unpaid internships for the semester or summer.

The 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2016 Internship & Co-op Survey Report defines an internship as a one-time work or service experience related to a student’s major or career goals. What and intern does depends on both the discipline and university policies for the specific department, but the role of intern is usually comprised of entry-level tasks and assignments.

My first “internship” was at a law firm during the summer before my first year of college. It technically was not an internship, as I was neither paid nor given academic credit for the experience. It was not an intense position, but I learned a lot about myself in that workplace setting. From this experience, I can say that internships matter but are not free of any challenges.

There has been much debate on the nature of college internships and to a lesser extent, co-ops — cooperative education programs that provide students with multiple periods of work for in-depth career experience. A 2013 New York Times article raises questions about this issue, emphasizing that the college repertoire of advancing student internships has not entirely achieved its goals in helping students. 

For one, having supervisors who are not educators does not always sync well with evaluations for academic credit. But, of course, this applies to some universities, and not necessarily Elon. As someone who has yet to complete an internship for academic credit, I cannot say much about my personal experiences with the university’s internship programs, which Elon is known for.

Our university does an excellent job of providing academic credit — a characteristic the New York Times article says is missing from almost half of all internships. Each department at Elon has its own policies about internships, but some are treated as academic courses and thus, may require payments. 

Still, if you get the chance to pursue a career you really want, the absence of academic credit or earnings does not negate the long-term benefits of gaining real life skills and expertise you will acquire from the internship.

At Elon, 92 percent of students pursue internships — a statistic that reveals the high caliber students this university attracts. According to the NACE’s 2016 Internship & Co-op Survey Report, recruiting full-time employees is the primary goal of most programs. And here’s the NACE’s proof of this claim: “At the one-year mark, hires that served an internship with the organization outpace their inexperienced counterparts (78.5 percent versus 67.5 percent), but hires who interned elsewhere do not (64.6 percent).” 

To put this in perspective, you are more likely to make an impression on an employer if you have worked for the company or organization. Many Elon students have succeeded in their internships, and as a result, have allowed future students to pursue these companies and organizations.

If you don’t know where to begin, that’s fine. Here are some recommendations: surf the Elon Job Network for openings, speak with an academic advisor for information, do some Internet searches of what interests you and use websites such as LinkedIn to connect with alumni. No matter what you do, make sure to prepare ahead of time.

It’s important to remember that a job is not always guaranteed, but an internship always helps us get our foot in the door to opportunity. If you can, I suggest you try to get both feet in.