If you are a first-year master’s student in a higher education and student affairs (or related) master’s program, congratulations! You are almost done with your first semester. Since many programs are two-year long, you have probably already started hearing about summer internships with your peers and colleagues throwing around terms like ACUHO-I (Association of College and University Housing Officers-International) and NODA (National Orientation Director Association) which may or may not be familiar to you.
Last year, I did an ACUHO-I internship in San Diego working with a transfer student community where I gained new skills while visiting a new area of the country, and enjoying the sunny beaches every single day. It was quite a change from Burlington, Vermont! Completing a summer internship has excellent benefits for your professional development. The way you craft your summer experience depends on your interests, needs, and skills. Here are some things to consider:
What professional competencies do you want to develop or expand on?
This is a great time to utilize those nifty NASPA/ACPA competencies (if you don’t already do so). Find skills and competencies you are interested in developing whether in your current functional area or other functional areas of interest. I wanted to remain in the residence life realm but to work on my competency in developing student learning outcomes, so I tailored my search to these areas.
Does your current department or assistantship provide summer opportunities?
This is a great option to take if you want to build upon what you have already been doing in your job or assistantship. It is also helpful to work with people whom you already know. The converse of that is that it is beneficial to experience a new institutional culture, a different department, and a new supervisory approach.
How are you feeling financially?
Travelling, living in a new place for an extended period, and housing are all expensive. Some internships provide free accommodations. Some even cover a portion of your travel expenses, but that’s not the case for everyone. Also, ask in your program or department if there are any funds available for you to use.
How are you feeling emotionally?
A master’s program can be draining. You probably juggle classes, homework, a job, an assistantship, internships, and your personal life. Summer could be a chance for you to re-center, recharge, and practice some needed self-care. So maybe you want to work a job outside of higher education for the summer. That, too, counts as professional development because it helps you stay emotionally (and financially) healthy.
How wide of a range do you want to cast for your summer internship?
Internships with national organizations (such as ACUHO-I, NODA, NACA, and others) are great because they provide a wide range of opportunities geographically. Despite what you may think, the internships you find on these platforms are also very diverse, meaning that different departments and institutions have various projects. For example, on the ACUHO-I list, the positions were all under departments of residential life, but the content ranged from supervision focus to programming focus, to conduct-focus, etc.
The downside of these internships is that they require membership in the organization and non-refundable fees. Also, internships in residence life and orientation usually have rigid timelines which could interfere with your job or assistantship. Ask about flexibility in timelines before or when you interview for internships. It’s inconsiderate practice to pack up and leave a position before the agreed upon time, so be transparent with your time limits.
If you have a particular interest in a department or an institution, send them an email. Ask for available opportunities. Remember, it never hurts to ask. The worst thing they'll say is no.
Take the internship interviews seriously
That is the most crucial piece of advice I want to give you. Use this opportunity to practice your interview skills. Review your resume and practice writing cover letters. Utilize the services at your institution (they’re not just for undergraduates!). Have your mentor, advisor, supervisor, or faculty, proofread your resume. Just like any job interview, make sure you ask questions about the department culture, previous interns, supervision styles, etc. Remember, you add unique contributions to any department or office that you join, so make sure that your needs will be met and that your skills will be developed appropriately.
Whatever you do this summer, take time to reflect on the year and prepare for the year ahead. Broaden your professional network and your institutional knowledge. Ask to meet with different stakeholders to learn about their experiences. Connect with other interns in the office or institution. Most importantly, have fun.
Good luck with your search process! I’m sure you’ll do great!
Musbah Shaheen (he/him/his) is a second-year student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration Program at the University of Vermont. In addition to his assistantship as an Assistant Residence Director, Musbah has a lifelong passion for knitting and crochet. Tweet him @ShaheenMusbah