How to Apply for an Internship

An internship can give students vital professional experience. Learn how to apply for an internship and craft an engaging resume and cover letter.
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Marisa Upson has 10 years of professional writing experience, specializing in higher education trends, business, hospitality, and health and wellness. On BestColleges, she writes articles to help students make informed education and career decisions....
Updated on October 31, 2023
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Hannah Muniz is a senior editor with BestColleges, specializing in college planning, test prep, student life, and sponsored content. She previously worked as a freelance writer, composing articles on the SAT/ACT, higher education, language learning, ...
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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  • Internships in college can pave the way to job opportunities.
  • A strong cover letter can help you stand out from other applicants.
  • Hiring managers look for resumes that contain relevant information.
  • Complete your application with a portfolio, references, and updated social media accounts.

Internships play an important role in many students' future success.

In 2019, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that over 70% of employers end up offering a full-time job to their interns. Another study found that applicants with internship experience had a 12.6% greater chance of securing a job interview.

How do you stand out from the hundreds of other applicants vying for the same internship? One way is to have a strong resume, cover letter, and portfolio, as well as solid references. Read on to learn more about how to apply for internships.

Where Do You Submit Your Internship Application?

While many businesses require candidates to submit their internship applications through an online portal, others request that you send your documents through email. Follow submission guidelines exactly as stated in the listing.

If it's a generic email address, call the organization or search on LinkedIn to find out whom you should address the email to. If they don't request specific email formatting, include the name of the internship you're applying for in the subject line.

Finally, make sure your email address is professional — ideally something with your first and last name.

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How to Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter to an Internship

It's important to update your resume, since a strong resume and cover letter are often the deciding factors for a hiring manager. Don't worry if you don't have much experience in the field — hiring managers understand you're looking for an internship in order to gain experience.

The following tips go over how to tailor your resume and cover letter to your prospective internship.

1. Be Descriptive

Your resume is where you can showcase your biggest professional and academic accomplishments, so don't be afraid to get detailed here. In addition to your job title and date of employment, include the duties you performed as they relate to the internship you're applying for.

Remember to describe impact when listing your skills and responsibilities. For example, instead of just saying you managed a social media account, describe how many views the site received under your guidance or how much you were able to grow the site's following.

2. Keep It Concise and Relevant

Study what each company seeks in an intern and the specific tasks or skills it wants based on the job description. Then, connect those areas to your own experiences and accomplishments. For instance, your job as a cashier might have taught you the intricacies of customer service, which you can apply to a community outreach or sales internship.

Some studies suggest that companies look at your resume for just a little over six seconds before moving on to the next. As such, be sure to keep your resume concise and avoid including irrelevant fluff.

3. Ensure the Format Is Easy to Skim

Design your resume so that it can be read easily. Bullet points help draw attention to the most important information. Other ways to ensure readability include dividing sections clearly, using a simple font, and optimizing the top quarter of your resume.

4. Make Each Cover Letter Unique

A good cover letter can make all the difference when competing for an internship. This is your opportunity to showcase your personality and demonstrate your passion, as well as your skills, achievements, and writing talents.

Make your cover letter personalized and professional by explaining how your experience and personality make you a good match for this internship and organization.

If you're applying to multiple internships, make sure to tailor your cover letter to each role, highlighting specific skills mentioned in the internship listings. Remember, this is your opportunity to convince the hiring manager that you'll be an asset to that company.

5. Demonstrate Passion and Enthusiasm

Employers look for interns with enthusiasm and motivation. They want someone who is excited about joining their team. You can emphasize your enthusiasm by describing why you're passionate about the company and/or role.

You might also include a brief story about your achievements or activities that further demonstrates your passion for this field.

What Other Internship Application Materials Should You Prepare?

Most employers require internship applicants to provide 2-3 references. Start collecting these names well in advance. Consider who will be able to speak to your personality, skills, and work ethic. Good references from teachers, professors, or previous employers are like gold in the quest for an internship.

Some internships may also require applicants to provide a portfolio. This collection of your best, most relevant work provides companies with concrete evidence of your skills. A few fields that typically require a portfolio include graphic design, web development, writing, and marketing.

Even for internships that don't require a portfolio, submitting this extra bit of proof of your talents can help you stand out. Consider highlighting projects relevant to the internship, and select a sample of your best work.

3 Final Tips Before Applying for an Internship

You've polished off your cover letter and resume and gathered references. Before you submit your internship application, make sure to do the following.

  • Ensure Your Social Media Accounts Are Private

    According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers view a candidate's social networking sites. What's more, over half of those surveyed chose not to hire someone because of the content found on these sites.

    Check that your accounts are set to private. They should also be free of content you wouldn't want to share with your employer.

  • Know Application Deadlines

    Some deadlines are as early as November for summer internships. Many organizations request applications 6-8 months in advance. If you're applying to multiple internships, consider creating a spreadsheet with deadlines and putting reminders in your calendar so you don't lose out on interning for the organization of your dreams.

  • Double-Check Your Applications

    When you're submitting what seems like a million applications, it can be easy to switch on automatic pilot. Unfortunately, this is also when mistakes can occur. As this is your one chance to make a good first impression, you need to ensure all application materials are flawless.

    Double-check the names of organizations and hiring managers to make sure you're spelling, capitalizing, and punctuating them correctly.

    Many college career centers help students by going over their resumes and cover letters with them. If available, take advantage of this resource. Alternatively, you could ask a professor, family member, or friend to review your internship applications for you.

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