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What to Know About Internships for International Students

As an international student from India, Rounak Agarwal started looking for internships during his sophomore year at Pace University in New York, where he is majoring in economics with a minor in business analytics. Agarwal, a rising senior, has had two internships so far in the financial services industry, as a finance intern at Playfair Planning Services and mortgage analyst at Emigrant Bank.

He says his internship at the bank, where he has worked as a paid intern since September 2018, has been a good opportunity since he wants to start his career in the financial services industry. “This internship provided me with great knowledge into the mortgage and lending areas,” Agarwal says.

As prospective international students search for and apply to U.S. colleges, they may want to start thinking about internships. For students who have not yet enrolled, here are some things to know about how internships work in the U.S.

[Read: Research U.S. Universities’ International Student Career Services.]

Eligibility. Experts say eligibility for internships is based on the visa status a student plans to get.

“F-1 students are eligible to intern off campus, which is called Curricular Practical Training, CPT, after two full academic semesters at the university, not including summer sessions,” says Phyllis Mooney, executive director of career services at Pace University.

Mooney says if a student has completed a previous degree in the U.S. and has already been issued an F-1 visa for that degree, he or she does not have to wait two academic semesters to start an internship. She says students transferring in from another college do not have to wait either, unless they enter Pace with only one semester from a previous institution, in which case they would only wait for one semester versus one full academic year.

Mooney says for those who are on a J-1 exchange visitor visa, eligibility works slightly differently.

“If J-1’s happen to land an internship opportunity if they are here for more than one semester, under what is called Academic Training, their internship employer would have to provide an offer letter and documentation to our International Students and Scholars Services team for approval and processing,” Mooney says.

Experts say internships can be planned anytime but may be more beneficial between junior and senior year as students will likely have a better idea of what field they would like to go into.

“We encourage students to seek out opportunities early and often. This obviously will depend on field of study and where they hope to intern as some industries and/or employers prefer upperclassmen for certain roles,” says Anna Kenney, assistant director of internships at the University of Miami.

How to find an internship. When seeking an internship, the first stop should be the international student services office or the career center, experts say, but international students should also plan to explore opportunities on their own.

[Read: International Students: Get Jobs at U.S. Colleges.]

“Our Handshake system has hundreds of internships posted at any given time. Our students have their own accounts in this system and employers can contact them directly if the student has made their profile visible,” says John Mangiantini, an assistant director for internships and employer relations at the University of Idaho. He says most of the companies they work with are open to hiring international student interns who have applied and been approved for CPT.

Mangiantini says the university also uses GoinGlobal, an online service that helps job and internship seekers find opportunities in the U.S. and abroad. He says the career service’s advising team also maintains a webpage of resources students can use to search for jobs and internships, including external search resources by major.

Agarwal recently landed his third internship on his own, as a paid incoming summer analyst at Scotiabank. He says he began his internship search by making a list of all the biggest banks in the U.S., especially those on Wall Street.

“Then I started going to their websites and saw their application start date for summer 2019, made an Excel file of those start dates and then applied to almost all those ASAP. That’s how I applied to Scotiabank and finally got into it,” Agarwal says.

What to expect in an internship. Experts say internships can provide students with hands-on training in their field, something prospective international applicants should keep in mind as they consider U.S. colleges.

“Students should expect to perform work that is related to their field of study, not just filing, copying or doing work that no one else wants to do. They should ask to be assigned to a project team if possible so they are doing something that is directly related to organizational goals,” Mangiantini says. Students should spend time reflecting on what they are learning in their internship and how it relates to what they have learned in the classroom, he says.

[Read: 4 Internship Tips for International Students in the U.S.]

Italian national Lucia Pampana, who is majoring in advertising with a minor in marketing at the University of Miami, is an intern for the Visual Storytelling Institute, a marketing and advertising start-up. She says she began her internship filling out Excel sheets and promoting the company on social media. But weeks later, she says she began to present her boss with new ideas to improve his business, leading to a new role as a digital strategist with increased responsibilities.

Pampana says in her experience, international students tend to belittle themselves or fear the competition because of their accents, which may keep them from pursuing opportunities.

“Our value as international people is way more than what we think, and it is up to us to use it at our own advantage and show everyone our inestimable worth,” Pampana says.

Agarwal says international students should plan to make as many connections as possible once they’ve enrolled in school, especially with professors and career centers. And when applying to internships, he says international students should never lose hope.

“I’ve had hundreds of rejections so far and am still doing what I wanted to do. So keep working on your path and it will eventually pay off,” Agarwal says.

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What to Know About Internships for International Students originally appeared on usnews.com