Written by Monica Page

The challenge of obtaining an internship in college coincides with the “final boss” fight before entering the real world. Starting at freshman year, students are drowned in statistics and information that can be written out as one or two equations:

    1) student + internship + internship = job upon graduation
    2) student – internship – internship = living in your mother’s basement upon graduation.

Since most logical students do not have the life goal of living in their mother’s basement, “internship” becomes the golden word for success, achievement, ownership of a bed versus a sleeping bag, etc.

After developing the want for an internship, it can be an easy mission for students to apply to every big company in the region, trying to get that all-star resume addition, the golden bullet point, the holy grail of experience. The problem with that is, every college student on the planet has the exact same idea. Another roadblock in achieving that “picture perfect I’m getting a job the minute I graduate” resume is that not every good opportunity is in a good geographic location. Unless you are from New York City or Los Angeles, chances are it may be a requirement to travel to distant locations to obtain that perfect internship. Although interning with the Coca-Cola Company, Apple or any other Fortune 500 company may seem like the dream opportunity, it may be a better idea to go for an alternative type of internship.

With the Internet, social media and various other forms of technological communication, it is now easier than ever to find an opportunity that best fits your interests. Along those lines, growth in a new type of internship has increased and has become widespread. Virtual interns are students who work remotely with companies (mostly Internet start-ups) along the lines of social media marketing and online content production. The greatest strength of becoming a virtual intern is the benefit of making your own hours and not having to drive to an office. As long as the student has a reliable computer, Internet connection and a working telephone, virtual internships can be a good way to learn more about working remotely.

The downside to this is the disconnect between the student and the employer. Since most of the companies looking for virtual interns are Internet start-ups, the entire “team” may be virtual. Having a traditional internship that involves commuting back-and-forth to work may be a strain on the wallet for gas money, but interns are provided the opportunity of working directly with their supervisors and learning how the company works on the inside. Skype is good for talking to Grandma and getting a visualization of your friends’ “Texts From Last Night,” but when it comes to discussing changes in the company or expectations of what needs to be achieved by a deadline, face-to-face interaction can’t be beat.

Even with the loss of direct human interaction, virtual internships are good for students who want to try something new or are in positions where they do not have the time or cannot commute to companies who offer internships in their major concentration. Obviously virtual internships are good for those in Marketing or Public Relations, who can do their job online through e-mails or through telephone calls. If you’re a Biology major who wants to do a virtual internship with the future goal of becoming a surgeon, you’re probably looking in the wrong area. Majors and careers that require hands-on experience and a supervisor to be readily available need to look more to “traditional internships” where supervisors are there to provide the best mentoring.

If you’re in a field where you will be working with technology and the changing landscape of social media, go for the virtual internship. The opportunity to work remotely will challenge your time management skills and help you become a better communicator with your team and target audience. For others, instead of looking to work virtually, aim at smaller companies that offer internships to get your foot in the door.