In- class Education or Internship

So many issues in business education are drawn to an either/or outcome.  Should I finish on time and go into the workforce or should I pursue an honors year?  Should I do a double degree or a single degree? Should I go onto my Masters/MBA immediately after my undergrad or should I go into the workforce first?

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Some can be resolved with a simple yes or no but most are complex issues not resolved so simply.

‘Should I stay in the class room or should I do an internship’ is such a question being asked by undergraduates all over the world.  In some countries (eg. France) there is no option as it is built into the curriculum.  In other countries, like Australia, the choices are wide open.




Here are five tips you should consider when making such a decision:

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  1. What can you possibly gain from staying in the classroom any longer?

Don’t assume from the nature of the question that I am suggesting that you should leave the classroom as soon as possible.  There are many skills and concepts that are better conveyed or at least equally well conveyed in the classroom as in the real world.


Think carefully about what you want to do when you finally leave university or business school.  What are some of the things you could craft in a classroom that might help you towards that ultimate goal?  If you are a negotiation major, could it be more practice in role playing?  If you are an engineer, more practicums to test your knowledge first?  If you are an industrial designer, could entering that university competition help you on your path to success?



  1. What can you possibly gain from doing an internship?


Internships offer many things that classrooms don’t.  Access to real world thinking.  Access to the latest industry practice.  A chance to put into practice many of the things you have learned in the classroom and elsewhere.


One word of warning – be sure to choose an internship that offers practical outcomes that align with your own career choices.  About half of the internships out there offer a good result for interns while the other half offer cheap labour to employers or repetitive, useless jobs like making the coffee or doing the filing.



  1. What would an internship offer you by way of skills that are attractive to future employers?


Most students think that employers are mostly interested in grades.  Well, perhaps the Big 4 accounting firms are.  Maybe the big consulting firms too.  After that, most are just happy to see that you have a degree from a great institution.


If they look at your CV and see nothing but grades and sporting awards, how are they to judge potential?  OK, so you are a great student but will that make you a great worker?


What you need to do is to fill up your CV with real work experience that matches the the type of job you ultimately go for.  There’s no point in showing the HR director from a large ad agency that you have worked in a supermarket, sold clothes in a clothing store and worked in a management consulting firm if they are looking for someone in account services for their ad agency

  1. Are you in a position to shape either of these paths – classroom or internship?


Your best way to shape your path in the classroom is quite simple – choose your electives wisely.  While you might see a long list of very interesting courses that might be fun, be honest with yourself.  Will they actually help you learn more about the career you are choosing for yourself?  Can they help develop skills you are currently lacking and a future employer would be looking for?


In an internship, the best way to be ‘Master/Mistress’ of your own destiny is to ensure there is structure in the internship program.  If you can see what it is you will be doing before you even start, then you are in a better position to judge if you can shape the internship to suit your overall needs.

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  1. Which one allows you to better connect the dots directly to your dream career job?

At the end of the day, one of these is going to be better suited to meeting your outcomes at a given point in time.  If you have a strong sense of what you want from your career, can you judge what the classroom has to offer that aligns with this?  Has the company offering the internship shown you exactly what you will be doing during the internship


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