The Ultimate Guide To Summer Internships

14 May, 2024

Are you eager to make the most of your summer break and jumpstart your career? There are so many productive things students can do in the summer or with their school holidays, and an internship is one of the most valuable! A summer internship could be the perfect opportunity to gain invaluable experience, build your professional network, and test-drive your future career path.

In this Ultimate Guide to Summer Internships, we’ll explore everything you need to know about these life-changing experiences, from understanding what internships are and why they matter, to navigating the application process and making the most of your time as an intern. Whether you’re a high school student, a college student, or a recent graduate, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to land the perfect summer internship and propel your career forward.

What is an internship?

An internship is a short-term work arrangement with a company. Unlike casual work experience or volunteering, internships often involve completing a specific job or set of tasks outlined in the role description and application process. Companies are typically required to clarify the beneficial experience interns will gain during their time with the organization in exchange for their work. Internships tend to last longer than work experience, ranging from several months, while work experience is typically no more than a few weeks.

What are summer internships?

Summer internships are temporary, full-time work opportunities during the summer break, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in a chosen field without academic distractions. These internships provide immersive experiences, skill development, networking opportunities, and a chance to explore career options. They also help build resumes and can potentially lead to permanent positions within the company or industry.

What is the difference between internship and summer internship?

While both internships and summer internships offer valuable work experience in a specific industry, the primary difference lies in their timing. Internships can occur at any time of the year and may have more flexible schedules, whereas summer internships specifically take place during the summer months, often coinciding with academic breaks. Summer internships tend to be full-time and more intensive, allowing students to fully immerse themselves in their chosen field without juggling academic responsibilities. Both types of internships provide essential experience, networking opportunities, and skill development, making them excellent choices for students looking to explore career interests and boost their resumes.

The benefits of a summer internship

Embarking on a summer internship can be a game-changer for your career, providing you with a wealth of advantages and opportunities for growth. Before diving into how to start looking for summer internships, let’s explore why these experiences are so highly sought after and how they can make a significant impact on your professional journey. Here’s a list of the top benefits you can expect from participating in a summer internship:

1. Gain real industry insights

Internships allow you to test out a sector or role, offering invaluable insights when deciding on a career path. You’ll work on your own projects, experiencing the industry firsthand and gaining a deeper understanding than shadowing or work experience can provide.

2. Discover the right fit

Completing an internship can help you determine if a job is right for you, saving you from committing to a long-term graduate scheme in the wrong field.

3. Enhance your CV

Internships demonstrate your interest in the industry and provide relevant experience, making your CV stand out to potential employers.

4. Develop transferable skills

Internships help you acquire skills that will appeal to employers across various sectors, even if you choose not to pursue the specific industry of your internship.

5. Expand your professional network

Internships provide ample opportunities to connect and network with professionals, opening doors to future jobs, industry events, and further networking possibilities.

6. Increase your chances of permanent employment

Employers often offer permanent positions to interns upon completion, helping you transition directly into the job market.

A summer intern taking notes

How to find summer internships

Landing your first internship can seem like a challenging task, especially when there are countless opportunities and industries to consider. To help you navigate this process with ease and confidence, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to find the perfect summer internship:


1. Decide on an industry or sector

The first step is to determine which industry you’re interested in. Speak with a careers advisor, attend employment events, or search online for inspiration. If you’re unsure, consider taking a career assessment quiz to help guide your decision.


2. Search online for internship opportunities

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to do, you can start looking for relevant openings.

Many companies advertise summer internships online. These are usually found on both their websites and social media pages, and you can also find a range of positions on sites like TargetJobs, e4s, LinkedIn and RateMyPlacement.

You can also find out whether they offer work experience or internships at other times of the year on the company website, usually in their ‘Careers’ section.

At Oxford Scholastica Online, we offer Virtual Internships hosted by our partner organisations. They take the hassle out of searching for an internship, and you’ll also have the added value of being supported by an Oxford Scholastica Mentor during your internship to ensure you make the most of the experience and add genuine value to your host organisation


3. Ask around for an internship referral

A lot of people find internship positions simply through word of mouth, so make sure you’re making the most of any connections you already have. Ask family, friends and anyone else you know working in your industry or a similar one whether they’ve heard of any openings.

If you particularly want to intern with a specific company but can’t find an internship application for them online, it’s worth calling or emailing their HR department and seeing if they’re offering anything. This can also allow you to explain the areas you are interested in and have more input into the kind of internship you end up with. 


4. Attend careers fairs

Careers fairs provide a wealth of information. They help you narrow down your interests by learning about the work the companies do and often provide information about current or future vacancies.


When should you start applying for summer internships?

The bigger the organisation, the earlier the deadline for applications. It is best to start looking for summer internships around August of the year before you want to complete a summer internship, e.g. August 2023 for a Summer 2024 placement. Many open later than this, but starting early will allow you time to research and perfect your CV, as well as ensuring you don’t miss out on any. 

February is usually when most applications are due, but some smaller organisations will have openings even later than this so don’t worry if you start your search late. Remember you can also reach out to companies yourself if they don’t offer a fixed internship and this may give you more flexibility.

A sign saying "you've got this" to encourage a student applying for internships

How can I increase my chances of getting a summer internship?

Internship applications can vary hugely in length and detail, but we’ve outlined the key steps you might be expected to complete in your summer intern application, and the most important internship application tips to help you stand out:


Craft a standout CV and cover letter

An essential part of getting an internship is your CV. This is the first impression a potential employer gets of you, so it’s important to spend time writing a CV to show how you are well-suited to the role. However, although your CV should be detailed, make sure it isn’t too long – no more than two pages. Usually, a single page is enough. The idea is not to list everything you’ve ever done, but to present experience that makes you perfect for the specific role. If something is impressive but irrelevant, it doesn’t need to be on there. This should also get you thinking about why the experience you have is helpful, even if it may at first seem unrelated.

You will usually need to send a cover letter with your CV. You should match the tone of the company you’re applying to, although your letter should never be too informal. Express your interest in the internship, why you would particularly like to work with the given firm, and briefly outline why you would be a good fit. Don’t just repeat things on your CV, and stick to the word count if you’re given one. If not, don’t go over one side of A4. Read this article for more guidance on cover letters


Prepare for aptitude tests

You will likely be asked to complete some kind of aptitude test as part of the process. These can be anything from answering questions about videos, to a maths test, to something called psychometric testing, which looks at abstract reasoning skills. You can usually complete these at home, and there are often practice tests online.

Make sure you complete the test somewhere quiet and away from distractions, and that you have enough time to do it all in one sitting. Don’t let it stress you out, and make sure you answer honestly.


Ace your interviews

Depending on the size of the company you’re applying to, recruiters may well ask you to attend one or more interviews. Some or all of these interviews may take place virtually on Skype, Zoom or Webex, and the very first one might even need you to answer a set of pre-recorded questions. Again, make sure you’re somewhere you can concentrate, with a strong internet connection and no background noise. Remember, the key to how to survive a job interview is preparation, so research the company, anticipate potential questions, and practice your responses beforehand. With these tips, you’ll be ready to tackle any interview, whether it’s virtual or in-person.


Follow-up on internship applications

If you don’t hear back from a company within the time they tell you to expect a response, it’s worth following up with the HR department. They can be very busy and applications can get lost, so a quick polite email to check up on everything may be a good idea. Make sure you check whether they respond to everyone, or just successful candidates, though, as it may be that your application wasn’t chosen this time.

A student on a virtual internship call

What do recruiters look for in interns?

 The following is a list of things that recruiters look for, not only on your CV but in the rest of the application process as well. 


Demonstrating passion and enthusiasm

One of the most important things to convey throughout the whole application process is enthusiasm. In your CV, cover letter and interview, you must be able to show a passion for the industry. Always check the company website before going to an interview and prepare examples of where you have gone above and beyond to extend your learning. 


Effective communication skills

Businesses are always looking for people with good communication skills, so you need to show that you can express your ideas clearly. A straight-forward, confident application will demonstrate this, but it can also be helpful to highlight presentations you’ve given or written reports you’ve produced. You can also talk about retail work, volunteering or any roles of responsibility you held at school or university.


Developing commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is an understanding of the business and of the wider industry. Recruiters need to be convinced that you are able to make credible and well thought out decisions that will benefit them. Read relevant news stories, research company competitors, and talk to people working in the area before any interviews. Make sure you know the company’s aims, the space they occupy in the market and anything else that makes them unique.


Being a team player

Employers will want to know that you can work well in a team. Many internship projects are collaborative, so include evidence of your ability to work well with others. Recruiters are more likely to hire you if they think you’d fit in well and be a fun presence in the office. Besides, internships will only help you network if you maintain good relationships with the people you meet during your time there.



How to prepare for an internship 

 So, you’ve completed the application process and got an offer, but what can you do to prepare before your first day? 

Remember that it is completely natural to be nervous before your internship. Keep in mind that you have already done a great job to be offered the place and the company wouldn’t have chosen you if they didn’t think you’d be a good fit. One way to feel more prepared is to check you know exactly when and where the internship will be taking place. It may be useful to practice the route beforehand so you know how long it takes to get there – you don’t want to be late on your first day! Also, check the dress code and make sure you have suitable clothes.

You can also brush up on your skills and think about your personal goals for the internship. Highlighting any areas you’d like to develop will help you get the most out of your time there. 



Converting your internship into a full-time job

 Many employers offer internships as a tool to get to know and potentially recruit new permanent employees. Internships can help organisations decide if the intern is a good fit for the role and it is quite common for interns to receive a job offer upon its completion. Paid internships turn into official job offers 65% of the time and unpaid around 39%.

Following the advice in previous sections, such as showing a keen interest, good work ethic and interpersonal skills will help you turn your internship into a permanent job. Showing initiative, networking and ensuring you keep in contact with the company will also boost your chances. 

A "now hiring" sign for a job opportunity

Is it worth it to do an internship abroad?

Taking an internship abroad is perfect for those who want to balance a love of travel with the benefits of an internship. You can experience a new culture, maybe polish your foreign language skills and grow your independence. However, there are some considerations to take into account before you jet off to somewhere exotic. First of all, be aware that there are some programmes on offer which describe themselves as internships but can cost you a lot of money without providing any useful experience, so make sure to do plenty of research and read independent reviews. You should also check your right to work status in your chosen country, and take into account transport, living and documentation costs before signing up to intern abroad.

You’ll also need to tailor your CV to the standards of the country. For example, the expected length of an application can differ greatly between countries, as can the expected amount of personal detail included. This type of internship is less likely to be paid and it is commonly recommended to set aside extra funds in case of any additional costs during your time there. However, they can also be incredibly rewarding so it is definitely worth researching if you have an interest in travelling. 

Here is a list of some of the popular destinations and the trades they are most well-known for:

  • Europe is great for politics, international relations and diplomacy, particularly France, Belgium and Switzerland
  • Europe can also be popular for fashion and design e.g. Milan and Paris.
  • Australia and New Zealand provide lots of opportunities to get involved in conservation and the creative industries e.g. design, graphics
  • Asia is well known as a powerhouse for finance, business and technology


Alternative options if you don’t get a summer internship

Before giving up hope on landing a summer internship, make sure you expand your search to smaller companies. Start-ups and other small businesses tend to advertise internships at a later date than the big companies and can open at any time throughout the year.

Join Oxford Scholastica Online

At Oxford Scholastica Online, we run Online Internships throughout the year with our partner organisations. You’ll be paired with one of our partners, and you’ll work on a real project for them over the course of an intensive week. You’ll be supported by an Oxford Scholastica Mentor to ensure that you add lots of value to your host organisation with your work, which you’ll present to board members at your host organisation on your last day. You’ll receive a Letter of Recommendation from your host organisation, which you’ll be able to use in future internship and job applications. The benefits of virtual internships include gaining valuable experience while working remotely, saving on expenses associated with commuting and relocation, and having more flexibility in your schedule.

Consider part-time summer jobs, volunteering & other extra-curricular activities

Alternatively, you could try to find other experience that will provide you with transferable skills. This may be a part-time job, volunteer work or even extra-curricular activities. Volunteering, for example, looks great on your CV and can show that you have gained useful skills and also have a humanitarian side. 

Attend a summer school

Another alternative is to take part in an Oxford summer school like the ones offered by us here at Oxford Scholastica Academy. Here’s a list of the skills you’ll develop on a summer school abroad. If you’re stuck at home, you could complete an online course or earn additional qualifications. Showing initiative, such as by learning a language or learning to code, is a vital trait many companies look for. If you need to work over the summer, try to find a job that has some relevance to the sector you are interested in. But most importantly, don’t stress out – there’s always next year!


Summary of our top tips for summer internships


  • Start looking for summer internship opportunities as early as possible
  • Be enthusiastic!
  • Do your research – have a look at the company website, key trends and news stories, and the other companies operating in the market
  • Keep a copy of the job description to hand when you are putting an internship on your CV
  • Keeping a daily note of what you do on the internship will be extremely useful for both your CV and any future interviews
  • Ask for feedback and/or a reference
  • Stay in touch – internships provide an opportunity to network and connections made during your internship may help you enter the industry at a later date

Looking for a summer internship?

We offer Virtual Internships with our exciting partner organisations throughout the year. Get a taste of what it’s like to work in your chosen field, gather experience for your future CV, and start building your global network!