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Virtual Internships: A Valuable Addition to Your Online College Degree Experience

By Laura Jacobs, UW-Whitewater April 4th, 2012

Internships are all the rage these days. Not only has "internship" become a buzzword around college campuses, but these experiences have become an unofficial requirement for securing a job after graduation. The importance placed on internships has to do with two things:

  • Internships provide real-world experience, exposing students to the professional workplace and its expectations.
  • Internships provide career-related work experience, better preparing students for the professions they intend to pursue.

As a nontraditional student earning your college degree online, you have already spent time in the "real world." In fact, currently you might be splitting your time between the real-world workplace and the college classroom. However, internships can still be a valuable experience, and they are particularly important for the related experience if you are a career changer.

Since some internships can be as long as six months and some, particularly in the summer, can be close to full-time, the traditional internship might not work for you. A modern alternative, perfect for the nontraditional student, is the virtual internship.

What Is a Virtual Internship?

A virtual internship is simply a telecommuting internship experience in which you work remotely from the comfort of home, campus, or anywhere that works for you. Virtual internships have become popular with start-ups, but larger companies are starting to explore the concept, too. Since so much of the work we do today requires nothing more than a computer and Internet connection, "telework" is a flexible, cost-effective, and convenient option.

Virtual internships are more common in technology-based and communications fields, such as web design/development, public relations, social media management, and marketing. While many are unpaid, there is a trade-off between pay and the sheer convenience of these opportunities.

How Do You Find a Virtual Internship?

Finding a virtual internship is simple: Do the same things you would do to find an on-site internship. Online, some job boards are specializing in virtual opportunities. One such resource is YouTern, which focuses on virtual internships with start-ups.

Being proactive is also important in securing an internship. Reach out to organizations you are interested in working with and propose a virtual internship. It’s likely that many organizations haven’t considered this option yet, but they might be open to it if you ask.

What Makes a "Good" Virtual Internship?

Just as in on-site positions, structure is a vital element of a good virtual internship. Look for a virtual internship with specific objectives. In terms of supervision, there should be a point person within the organization who can provide guidance and feedback on assignments.

Because you are working remotely, communication channels and processes should be established up front. Maybe you can’t meet in person with your supervisor, but you can schedule regular Skype meetings. Instead of emailing attachments back and forth, use Google Docs or Dropbox. Take advantage of available technology to make your virtual work easier.

Internships are an excellent way to gain experience and get a foot in the door of your desired field. Virtual internships are a flexible alternative to traditional on-site internships. The experience can make a great career-related addition to your résumé and be a stepping-stone to the next point in your professional journey.

Laura Jacobs is Internship Coordinator with UW-Whitewater’s Office of Career & Leadership Development. She writes on the topic of internships for the UW-Whitewater Internships Blog and shares internship content on Twitter as @uwwinternships.