Are internships/volunteer work important when applying to grad school?

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

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Updated: February 28, 2024, Reading time: 4 minutes

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While not the end-all and be-all of grad school admissions, internships, and volunteer work are excellent ways to document experiences relevant to your graduate program or industry. For Ph.D. applications, what truly matters is your ability to demonstrate to the grad school admissions committee your intensive experience in research.  

Grad school admissions are typically interested in two things: your academic chops and your experiences outside school. They encourage applicants to obtain some work experience related to their field of study. Internships and volunteer work give you an edge as an applicant.

Gaining relevant experience, whether during your undergraduate classes, winter or summer breaks, or the time between your undergraduate and graduate studies, will enrich your learning environment and help you solidify your interests.

Real-world experience will have you realize why it’s important to have them in your college years. These experiences can be brought back into the classroom. You’d be surprised that coursework or research will even be easier to handle after internship/volunteer work.

What exactly are the advantages of internships/volunteer work? Let’s dissect the facts!

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They help build your resume.

Many companies turn to internships as a way to enhance their recruitment efforts. This also is true for grad school applications. While internships/volunteer work does not solely influence the decision of your grad school acceptance, they make a difference. You can provide them with great examples of your ability to handle research, responsibilities, deadlines, and pressure. 

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They present a genuine learning experience.

Internships and volunteer work give you a taste of reality. You start to develop your technical know-how of the industry and even discover hidden talent and skills you have. It shows your maturity, tests how you respond to unexpected situations at work, and gives you a lot of room for improvement before going to the real working world. 

They help you establish your management skills.

There may be many things you need to fulfill at once when you’re in grad school. Management skills are needed to get tasks done. You get the opportunity to practice your leadership and management skills when you are on an internship/volunteer work.

This experience will allow you to observe your managers, supervisors, and staff and see how they manage their time, and tasks and lead others to perform their jobs. You learn to prioritize tasks, manage your time well, and acquire career-related skills that are all important in grad school.

They help you improve your communication skills.

Your ability to communicate effectively can impact your grad school application and career development as a whole. Internships/volunteer work enhances your communication skills by providing you with awareness and knowledge of dealing with others in your workplace.

How well do you listen to instructions? How well do you give instructions? With internships, you develop good listening habits that improve your work potential and harmoniously work in a team. 

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They help you get great letters of recommendation.

Among all the documents you need to accomplish after an internship, your mentor or manager’s letter of recommendation is the most valuable validation from the industry. Grad school admission officers look for written output from professionals who have been in the industry for a long time and want to find out what these professionals have to say about your character, work ethic, skills, and unique talents.

They help you define your career goals.

You can gain career focus with internships or volunteer work. This will allow you to start building your career path and even discover your real mission. Exploring your career path is important in making decisions about your chosen field of study.

This will also help you see if a particular career will match your skills, lifestyle, and passion. When you begin an internship, you begin to open doors for meeting top minds in the industry, professional networks, and influential names you can count on in the future.

They help you stand out in grad school applications.

All the benefits of internship/volunteer mentioned above will hint toward a future career. It will also help you increase your chances in grad school selections. So, make the most of your internships/volunteer work by setting goals with your mentor or supervisor, meeting your coworkers, understanding the organization, and acting following the organization’s routine, policies, and procedures.

Additionally, try to reach out to as many people as possible. Ask them questions about their careers and get feedback on your performance, too.

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