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  • A part-time job can give you valuable work experience while you earn money for school or other expenses.
  • Internships can offer professional connections and experience. However, some are unpaid.
  • Paid internships offer the best of both worlds. However, they may be competitive to get.

Getting a job or an internship during college is a great way to fill any extra time, boost your work experience, and possibly earn some money. Which one should you pursue? Explore the benefits of each, so you can pick what’s right for you.

The pros and cons of part-time jobs

About 40% of full-time undergraduates work while they’re in school, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. When your main motivation for working is to earn money, searching for a part-time job rather than an internship may help you make the most of your time. Earnings from your job can help offset college and living costs. Plus, the experience can help you build valuable skills to use in school and even professionally down the line. This could be direct, such as working as a tutor if you’re an education major, or indirect, like learning how to stay cool under pressure while working the rush shift at a restaurant.

In some cases, though, a part-time job can detract from your schoolwork. While there are jobs that give you flexibility during finals, a job in retail may ask you to work more hours during the holidays, which is exactly when you need extra time for studying.

The benefits of college internships

Getting an internship can help you apply learnings from school in real work settings. In the process, you’ll build essential skills and make professional contacts that will enhance your network post graduation. Plus, it’s a way to test drive your major and career path and make sure it’s one you’re excited about. It may even help you get your first job. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the conversion rate—what percent of internships turn into entry-level jobs—is up 20% in 2021, with 80% of employers offering their interns full-time positions.

The best of both worlds: paid internships

While internships offer great experience, unfortunately, many are unpaid. If you need to work to help pay for school, this can make many internship programs difficult to fit into your already packed schedule.

However, if you can find a paid internship in your field of study, then you can satisfy both needs at once: income and professional experience. Paid internships can be more competitive, so spend some time researching programs and putting together impressive applications. And make sure to visit your school’s career center in person as part of the process. NACE reports that students who did so were 25% more likely to get a paid internship than an unpaid one, according to their survey data.

Which choice is right for you?

Should you try to get a part-time job, an unpaid internship, or a paid internship? If you're looking to boost your résumé and gain deeper career experience, then an internship could be the right path for you. But, if paying for expenses or extra spending money is your top priority, then you might want to consider a part-time position or a paid internship.


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