Tips to find paid internships in the US, preparing for successful interviews and securing work authorization.
Start preparing to study in the US!
Like most international students, I am assuming you are also interested in getting internships while studying for your degree programs in the US and other countries.
While internships can be a good way to earn some money to fund your tuition and living expenses, there are some more reasons to pursue internships:
- Internships give you an opportunity to determine your interest in a particular career
- You gain experience in the field you are interested in
- You can connect with other people and build your professional network
- Internships often lead to a full-time job
- Your internship experience will be very useful in terms of your subsequent job search
- In some cases, you may also get some school credits for your internships
How to decide which type of internship to look for?
Broadly, there are two types of internships:
- Work-experience internships: These internships are typically offered by businesses or non-profit organisations and provide real-world experience. If you are interested in hands-on experience or looking for a job in a certain field such as engineering, business or law, you should consider pursuing this type of internship.
- Research internships: These internships are usually offered by a university, where you do research along with a researcher or professor. If you are interested in attending a graduate school (i.e. getting a Master’s or PhD), you should consider doing a research internship.
Do I get Scholarships or Stipends for an Internship?
In a majority of the cases, a scholarship or stipend may be available for an internship.
- Work-experience internships: Depending on the company or organization, you may be able to negotiate a scholarship or stipend. You should take advantage of any type of work experience offered through internship, even if there is no stipend or scholarship. Your internship will not only give you a deeper understanding of the area and let you gauge your interest in pursuing that area as a career, but it will also significantly help you with your job search upon graduation.
- Research internships: These internships at various college campuses are usually funded through stipends and is independent from the school. Also, these internships are offered without regard to immigration status, which means, you as an international student, are at no disadvantage as compared to domestic students.
Where to Start for Internships?
Start by contacting your international student services office.
In most cases, there are certain rules and limitations for international students regarding off-campus internships. Your international student service office is the best place to get information about these matters.
While you may be tempted to just ask your friends, who have done something similar earlier and can potentially give you an idea of how to proceed, it is in your best interest to understand the regulations, which may change from year to year, before you start searching for internships.
You will get a good idea about what opportunities to look for which are permitted by law. At the same time, you would also know about all the paperwork that you will need to fill out.
How to get Internships?
Networking is the most effective tool to gain internships: It’s not What You Know but Who You Know.
It is a career development skill that you must develop. In its simplest form, networking involves having a “career conversation” with someone for the purpose of exploring careers or job searching.
With your professional goals in mind, you should actively build, reinforce and maintain relationships of trust with other people.
Many international students who succeed in getting prized internships and stipends highly recommend networking.
Recent surveys of employers indicate that over 50% of all open positions are filled through networking! So begin to develop your networking skills – you will gain a valuable tool that will serve you throughout your career.
Where do you find people to network with? All around you! Every conference, meeting, lecture and social event is an opportunity to meet new people, build your reputation and create opportunities for yourself.
You can also use LinkedIn, the online professional networking website, to find professionals in your areas of interest.
Effective networking is quite difficult, so here are some tips to help you get started:
- Understand that the person you are trying to network with is a person, not just a contact that is going to ‘get you something’
- Always feel confident about yourself and your ability to positively contribute
- Create business cards and have them ready at all times (it is okay for your title to be student)
- Make it a habit to attend lectures, speeches and other special events on campus and in your community because you never know who will be there
- Look at the program ahead of time and determine who you may want to speak with after the program
- Ask questions throughout the event
- Target key people you would like to talk to, introduce yourself and describe what you do
- If you are unable to identify someone on your target list, look for an individual you already know who is conversing with someone you do NOT know
- Exchange business cards and follow up with an e- mail or a phone call
- Do not beat yourself up if things do not turn out the way you planned them with regard to networking. They often do not. The best relationships may emerge when you least expect them to.
Mock Interviews: Practice to Get Your Internship
When you apply for an internship or scholarship, in the majority of cases you will have to attend an interview, which could be a deciding factor.
Many international students get intimidated by interviews or are concerned about their accent or ability to communicate effectively.
The best way to get over your interview worries is to practice.
Turn to your peers with good communication skills and ask them to help you practice. Work on their feedback, improve yourself and repeat until you feel ready for the real interview.
Securing Authorization to Work in the US
Depending on the stage you’re at in your education, there are different procedures required to get employment authorization for a U.S. internship.
If you’re currently enrolled in a U.S. college with an F-1 student visa, the best solution is to use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization for your internship.
For authorization to work after graduation, you will need to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows you to work in the U.S. for a maximum of 12 months. OPT is often used by students who have graduated and are waiting for an H-1B work visa to be issued.
Rules tend to change over time, so it is best to contact the International Student Services Office on your campus for the latest information.
Here is a quick comparison of CPT and OPT:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
|Should your internship be related to the area you are studying?||Yes||No|
|What is the eligibility criteria?||Students with F1 visa, who have spent at least 9 months in the US||Full-time students for at least 1 academic year with valid F1 visa|
|Does the employer require an offer letter?||Yes||No, OPT is not specific to an employer|
|Who issues employment authorization?||Issued by international student services office at the college. Processing time could take 2-3 weeks.||Issued by United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). Processing time could take 2-3 months.|
|Is the internship paid?||Depends||Depends|
|Do you get course credit for internship?||Yes||No|
If your H-1B authorization is delayed beyond the 12-month limit for OPT, you can get an OPT extension for up to 17 months if you have graduated from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) program.
There are additional conditions and criteria for this extension, so be sure to confirm the details by visiting your International Student Services Office or the USCIS website.