Hello! I am a second-year master’s student in the Educational Administration Student Affairs program at UNL and recently completed my summer internship at Brown University. The internship was part of my required curriculum and a fantastic opportunity to gain experience, develop skills, and build social ties in the US professional world. Although an internship does not require visa sponsorship, it is a time- and energy-consuming process. There are some pieces of advice that I would like to share with international students who are thinking about doing one.
I did not understand the value of networking and making connections until I started my master’s program in the USA. Start by connecting to people you already know and expand your network. Interacting with your program coordinator, faculty, staff, peers, supervisor, alums, and industry professionals can help you to learn about opportunities or someone who might know. For example, at first, I learned about the platform where I found my internship in Student Affairs through my groupmate. In addition, you can look for opportunities on LinkedIn, Handshake, and other professional platforms in your field.
Second, demonstrate your interest. Contact other departments or organizations you are targeting and ask if they are looking for interns. Draft an email providing information about yourself, such as major, interest area, briefly about your knowledge or professional experience/ skills, what you are looking for, and attach your resume. Even if they do not have open positions, they will think about you when there is an opportunity. When I was looking for a graduate assistantship position on campus, my program coordinator and professor shared emails and names of people from other departments I could reach out to, and I did. Overall, some of the recruiters replied, and some ghosted, but one instance stuck in my mind. One of the employers responded to me and informed me that they did not have open positions at that time, but after several weeks, I heard back from them and was offered an interview.
Another strategy that I learned recently in my summer internship course in Student Affairs and planning to implement is informational interviews. International students have fewer connections in the US professional world, and informational interviews are a great way to build those relationships. Reaching out to people in the target industry and setting up an informal meeting will help make strong connections and learn about the hidden job market opportunities. It is essential to be intentional about those meetings and come prepared. You can learn more about the method here: International Student’s Guide to Finding a Job in the United States.
Third, start early and learn about the curricular practical training (CPT) visa requirements and process. CPT is an employment authorization, and specific instructions need to be followed, but it is not as scary as it sounds. You can schedule an appointment with an ISSO specialist or visit ISSO during walk-in advising hours and use the resources provided on ISSO and Career Services websites. I encourage learning about the procedures as early as you decide to do an internship to plan your steps and time accordingly. Personally, my CPT visa filing process was smooth and seamless, but it took me some time to complete it because I needed my documents to be filled out or signed by multiple offices. I started working on my papers at the beginning of May, and it took me around two weeks to gather all of them. Afterward, I emailed the documents to ISSO and received my CPT approval within one business day. The timeline may vary case by case, so I recommend having at least two to three weeks.
Building your resume and/or working on your cover letter requires knowledge of particular strategies and a second pair of eyes. I worked on my resume and cover letters alone because I had some experience, but there is always room for improvement. Thus, I scheduled a meeting with my department’s career coach and asked my peers for feedback, which I found very helpful. When preparing for interviews, I used chat GPT to generate some ideas and followed the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) strategy for my responses. Asking for feedback from my colleagues and peers to sharpen my responses was also very useful. Most importantly, I have learned how important it is to believe how unique and valuable your skills and experiences are and not be shy to brag about your accomplishments during interviews.
Invest in your future career. I understand it is a wonderful opportunity to travel back to your home country and visit your family and friends during the holiday breaks. However, I recommend taking advantage of the free time and gaining professional experience in the USA and building a network in the industry you are making a career. There are a variety of options on-campus and off-campus opportunities you could choose from. It will help you develop skills and benefit you in the future, especially if you plan to seek professional experience in the USA after graduation.