The Best Time to Apply for an Internship

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When is the best time to apply for an internship? It depends. If you are interested in a credit-bearing internship, you'll need to check the application deadline with your school.

Competitive internships with a formal application process will have deadlines that are earlier in the year than an internship at a small organization or one you arrange yourself.

Can First-Year Students Apply for Internships?

Most students will complete an internship during their junior or senior year to increase the chances of the internship leading to a job offer. However, it is more and more common for students to hold internships throughout the entire duration of their college career in order to gain experience. If you're interested in interning during your first year, go ahead and get in your application. 

Many internships, especially competitive, paid programs with big-name companies, require you to have previous internship or extracurricular experience, so it is important to get started early if you can.

When to Apply for an Internship for Credit

Students considering internships should check their college's deadline for applying if they are interested in receiving credit for an internship.

Most colleges will not award credit after the fact if you haven't registered in advance for the internship experience.

Since most colleges will not secure a specific internship for students, you will also need to reach out to employers well in advance of the semester when you plan to do an internship to land a position.

When to Apply for Fall and Spring Internships

For fall internships, you should consider contacting employers before you leave your college area in the spring if you will not be able to return until the fall semester. October is a good time to start reaching out to employers for a spring internship.

If an employer indicates that they are not yet ready to consider applicants, then ask when would be the earliest date that you might be considered given your high level of interest in the opportunity. Local slots for unpaid internships are often filled on a first come, first served basis, so more opportunities will be available if you apply early.

When to Apply for a Paid Summer Internship

Competitive paid summer internships will have deadlines as early as the late fall. The most common period of time for employers to screen applicants for paid internships will be during the period from January to March.

Many colleges have resources available to help fund students who will be working at an unpaid summer internship. Check with your college's career office for these deadlines during the fall.

Applying Late for an Internship

As a general rule, it's a good idea to apply for internships early, as much as six months prior to their start date.

Don't worry if you are late in the process since many internships, especially unpaid ones, can be arranged as late as a month in advance of the summer or semester you are targeting.

Often, this will involve students reaching out to employers who may not have even posted an opportunity (since many of the advertised internships will be filled at this point) and convincing them that you would be worth engaging as an intern.

Networking with alumni, teachers, coaches, family contacts, neighbors, and local professionals is also a great way to find an internship. If you need to earn some income you may be able to arrange a part-time schedule for your internship and pair it with a paid part-time job. 

Once you've got an internship lined up, be sure to make a plan for how you'll get the most out of it. In addition to building your resume, your internships will provide valuable work experience.

Tips for a Successful Application 

Follow these strategies for a successful application process: 

  • Be organized. Keep track of deadlines from both your college and companies where you'd like to intern. You may also want to set calendar reminders to follow up on applications. 
  • Apply to many roles. You can't count on getting your dream internship, so make sure to apply for several. 
  • Pay attention to practical details. For instance, if you're interning during the summer in a different location from your home and/or college, you'll need to determine where you'll live—and how you'll pay for your housing. Think through finances as well, particularly if you are applying for unpaid internships. 
  • Prepare a professional resume and cover letter. Both documents should be tailored toward the role at hand. Here's a college resume example, along with writing tips, and here's an internship cover letter.
  • Follow the application instructions. You may need to share references, submit examples of your work, or answer questions. Read the directions carefully. Showing a poor lack of attention to the instructions can make hiring managers disregard your application. 

Prepare for an Interview

Once you land an interview, make sure to practice answering common interview questions. Show up to the interview early and dressed professionally. Afterward, don't forget to send a thank-you note

Your interview will be either in-person or could be conducted via video. If virtual interviewing is new to you, here's how to prepare to ace a video interview.

Also, be aware that your internship may be remote as well. Here's how to make the most of a remote internship, and have a successful experience.