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Looking back, if you had to choose, which would you say has more positively impacted your career: your undergraduate degree or your internship(s)?

I hear this question all the time: Was my degree worth the cost? And while many — myself included — are up-in-arms over the state of today’s internships, I’m willing to bet even more people are upset about the decreasing career value of their pricey higher education.

Internships come in all shapes and sizes: paid, underpaid, unpaid, for credit. But regardless of the salary (or lack thereof), an internship program done right will provide you with immediate benefits — accomplishment stories you can tell to land your next position, work samples you can proudly share, a mentor for life, networking contacts, practical and “real life” applications of your skills, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t say those things about my undergraduate degree.

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below: Which would you say has more positively impacted your career, your undergraduate degree or your internship(s), and why?

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  • LMW

    My internship was useful because it taught me what field I didn’t want to go into. My degree, on the other hand, was extremely useful because it was concentrated on critical thinking and becoming a better reader and writer (I’m an editor, currently working in communications). So even with a liberal arts education, I think my degree was more useful than my internship. (Although again, the internship kept me from pursuing a career in PR and Marketing that would have made me miserable.)

  • Heather R. Huhman

    Interesting. And did you only have just the one internship, or did you do others in the field you eventually pursued?

    You’re right, though — internships can also have the benefit of teaching you what you DON’T want to do for a career. That can be extremely valuable information.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21723892 Rachel M. Esterline

    Without my degree, I probably wouldn’t have been considered for the internships I received. But, my internships were more valuable, hands-down!

  • Brecca R Farr

    But if you didn’t have your undergraduate education, would you have been considered for some of those past opportunities? 

    I think it is worth framing the question with the premise that *both* the undergraduate education and the internship are valuable — and are expected with today’s college graduate. The question is then, which can contribute *more* to your career preparation and professional development?  The answer, in my opinion, is “It depends on the individual.”  I can identify just as many students who effectively use their undergraduate educational experiences (e.g., team projects, leadership roles, research work) to promote their career success as I do those with external work-related/professional practice experiences (e.g., internships, co-ops, extensive job shadowing).  The common denominator is that they pursued the opportunities that strengthened their abilities, gave them insights into their field of study, and then were able to succinctly articulate that information to others as applicable.

  • Heather R. Huhman

    Brecca,

    This is such an excellent comment – thank you! I would never encourage people to forgo higher education, because it’s definitely necessary. I’m just trying to get people to expand their views about the opportunities out there…and I think your comment has added a nice layer to the discussion!

    Your career is what you make of it.

    Heather

  • LMW

    I only had one internship, but I had quite a few jobs (retail, restaurant, office, temping) over the years before I graduated and entered the job market, which were just as useful in helping prepare for working full time. I might had done another internship if I could have found another paying internship in a field that interested me. I felt lucky to find one. I couldn’t afford to do an unpaid internship on top of classes and my workstudy job.

  • http://twitter.com/StudentEventsCo StudentEvents.com

    I think a new category next to education and internships deals with student events attended mostly competitions but also hard to get into conferences and business courses)  Its almost like a new pillar in the CV and we see many students adding these on. I think these activities give undergrads an edge in their recruitment efforts + actually attending these competitions might actually land them the job.

    Full disclosure – I am the founder of StudentEvents.com 

  • Lindsaybrown203

    I agree with Brecca. I landed my dream internship because of my undergraduate success. And now because of my internship, I will be published before I graduate, I will have another impressive notch on my resume, and I’ve started building my own Rolodex of contacts to help me land a job when I do graduate. But you need to be persistent in both. 

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    Internships! And mostly because I did 5 of them. I really learned experience in what I wanted and didn’t want, and interacted with so many intelligent people. A few internships turned into full-time employment over the Summers in college and helped set me out from the rest of my peers who typically do ~1 internship in college.

  • Will Miceli

    Heather – I think internships are far more valuable than a degree since you get actual experience doing a job instead of theory from school.  Its also a low-risk way to find out if a job or industry is a good match for you.  But you can’t discount a college degree since many employers see it as a base requirement to hire someone who’s made it through college, even though what you learned may have nothing to do with your actual job.  Going through college is a fun experience and you learn many life skills, but often doesn’t teach you the specific skills to do a job.  The current job environment shows that a liberal arts education may not cut it anymore.

  • Stephanie

    I feel is if they both go hand in hand, you need the undergraduate degree to get the internship and you need the experience gained from an internship to get a job. While I feel that an Internship has a more positive impact on your career you would not have even been considered for the internship if you were not pursuing a degree.

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