I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: my internships were the most important part of my college education. As a communications major, there’s only so much you learn in the classroom; the rest is out there IRL.
Like many of my peers, my internships were unpaid. I worked for “college credit” (read: for free, sans homework). But to me, at age 19, a summer as a Conde Nast fashion intern was worth waitressing on the weekends to pay for my weekly bus tickets to New York City.
Until it wasn’t. My first internship was at a high-fashion magazine, and those three months spent running errands for editors, escorting designer samples from showroom to showroom, and holding doors open for models taught me something important: this was not my career path. I loved fashion, but I wasn’t prepared to eat, sleep and breathe it. Life is not an episode of Gossip Girl. That kind of life lesson comes without a paycheck.
My next internship was at another glossy, but this time with the promise of being published on the magazine’s site. I was living my dream. The internship was unpaid, but I was reaped the benefits of bylines, connections to writers and editors, free samples, and a strong addition to my resume. I spent two semesters at this magazine, and vowed to return full-time after college.
During my senior year, I landed the mythical paid communications internship, at a trade publication. The work wasn’t as glamorous as my previous roles, but my writing skills improved tenfold, and I met an amazing mentor. Still, I was making pennies compared to my friends interning in other industries. The tradeoff is, none of them knew what it was like to feel the high of a byline and the adrenaline of a print deadline.
Graduation came and went, and four weeks later I was moving to Pennsylvania, to take a full-time internship at the headquarters of the magazine I vowed to come back to. Six months flew by, and the time came to make a decision: is this what I really want?
I adored the magazine world – the photo shoots, the events, the larger-than-life editors and the content they produced – but it was only the first stop on my career journey. I packed up, moved back to New Jersey, and took a job in healthcare communications. Anti-climatic? Maybe. Right decision for me? Hell. Yes.
All the hours spent sending out resumes and cover letters, hoping for an interview with a top editor, commuting, crying, laughing, questioning why I wasn’t a STEM major, all for next-to-nothing, was worth it. My internships taught me what I wanted, and what I didn’t. I’ve had some amazing professors, but no one’s a better teacher than experience.