Get Real

Service learning, work study, co-ops, and internships are important career builders

College is only the first step toward preparing for a career. The second step is gaining real-world work experience.

Whether it’s volunteer or paid, work-based learning allows students to build connections and add skills to their resume. Early on when students are exploring careers, it makes sense to try out short-term projects to see if a career is a good fit. Once students choose a field and gain skills and knowledge in the classroom, they’re ready for greater on-the-job experience.

Community colleges offer students this kind of real-world experience in several ways ranging from short service learning projects, to longer-term internships and work study positions.

Service learning

Service learning, which combines volunteering and classroom learning, gives students an opportunity to apply lessons they’ve learned in the classroom and provides non-profits with services they need.

For example, students in a psychology class might volunteer for a service learning project at a local social service agency and follow up with a paper and presentation about the experience. Or business students might develop a marketing plan for a local non-profit as a class project.

Some colleges have even made service learning a requirement. At New Mexico State University Grants, students have the opportunity to enhance their educational experience and add valuable experience to their resumes.

“Students also have the opportunity to expand their social and professional networks, to showcase their skills and enthusiasm.  We have had many students who have turned a co-op experience or internship into a wage-paying position,” says Ambrosia Knighton, Student Services Advisor.

When students are ready for more extensive work experience, internships and co-op are the answer. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeable, but usually internships are unpaid work, often over the summer or for a limited time. Co-ops are more formal work experiences required for certain programs, often in technical fields. Students can earn credit, pay or both in co-op programs.

To apply for any of these positions students get to practice the application process which often includes an interview.  This is invaluable preparation for post-graduation when job hunting begins in earnest.

It’s not uncommon for co-ops to turn into full-time jobs after graduation. “Nationally about 40-50 percent of co-op students are hired later as full-time employees,” Knighton adds.

Get connected

The first place to start looking for hands-on opportunities is with your NMSU Grants Student Services. Faculty can be a good resource too; often they have relationships with businesses related to their field. Don’t hesitate to talk to parents, friends and neighbors either.  We are here to help get you connected so you can show your stuff and get a leg up on the competition.