WASHINGTON Annelise Madison arrived on the campus of Washington and Lee University in 2010 looking for the best way to leverage studies in history and political science into post-college plans. The first stop on that path was an early internship, followed by more.
Now a senior at the Lexington, Va., liberal arts college, Madison has completed three internships, from researching a book on an early U.S. president to teaching in Ghana. The most recent was at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution in Orange, which offered her a staff position after she finishes school in May.
People are really utilizing their summers to gain experience, said Madison, 21, whose faculty adviser helped her find internships she was interested in. Not only do they have more options in terms of people that will hire them, but they also know more what they want to do.
Internships have transitioned into a 10-week litmus test for a full-time job, with employers flocking to Americas college campuses ever earlier to scoop top talent.
Demand for such positions has soared as students, haunted by memories of the recession and the rising cost of college, recognize the potential payoff.
Theres a race for the top students, and once it gets started, it perpetuates itself, said Joanne Murray, executive director of the Center for Work and Service at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Students absolutely understand how valuable internships are.
Some 63 percent of 2013s graduating seniors have participated in internships or cooperative-education programs while pursuing a bachelors degree, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Thats the highest since the Bethlehem, Penn.-based association began tracking the data six years ago.
The increased interest is fueled mostly by the heightened stakes, Murray said. Students cant afford to miss out on such experiences as an improving economy allows companies to funnel interns into full-time positions.
About 70 percent of the 1,000 college graduates General Electric hires in the U.S. each year already have interned or completed a cooperative-education program with the Fairfield, Conn.-based company, up from about 50 percent in 2006, said Steve Canale, manager of global recruiting and staffing services.
GE, which has operations in Fort Wayne, now does almost 70 percent of its intern recruitment in the fall to get a jump on hiring, a reversal from a decade ago when most was conducted in the spring.
A lot of it is speed, Canale said. We need to get there, we need to get in front of them, and we need to establish ourselves early.
Deloitte LLP is also among companies connecting with students early, hosting leadership conferences and alternative spring-break programs before many reach recruitment stages for internships or full-time jobs, said Patty Pogemiller, director of talent acquisition for the New-York based firm.
Demand for internships reflects fluctuations in the labor market for college graduates. The unemployment rate for recent grads those ages 22 to 26 with a bachelors degree nearly doubled to 7.5 percent in 2010 from 2007, according to an August report from Georgetown Universitys Center on Education and the Workforce. Last year it fell to 6 percent, according to the analysis, based on data from the Current Population Survey and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If the economic recovery continues, 10.7 million new jobs for college graduates will be created alongside 8.7 million openings to replace retiring baby boomers in the next decade, according to the center.
Seeing relatives, friends, neighbors, whoever had been affected by the recession, it hits home that internships are critical to build a resume, said Tim Stiles, an associate director of University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Were seeing a lot more students come in as first-years already aware of what an internship is.