skip to main content
Recent Grads More Likely to Have Had Useful Internships

Recent Grads More Likely to Have Had Useful Internships

by Sean Seymour and Julie Ray

Story Highlights

  • 29% of all grads took part in applied internship or job
  • Women, blacks slightly more likely to report these internships
  • Applied internships linked to feeling prepared for life

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although studies of employers show internships in college can give job seekers an edge in today's job market, a Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates shows only about one-third of the most recent grads strongly agree they had an internship or job as undergrads that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom.

recent grads most likely to participate in internships

These results are based on the Gallup-Purdue Index, a joint-research effort with Purdue University and Lumina Foundation to study the relationship between the college experience and college graduates' lives. The Gallup-Purdue Index is a comprehensive, nationally representative study of U.S. college graduates with Internet access. According to a 2013 Census Bureau report, 90% of college graduates in the U.S. have access to the Internet. Gallup conducted the Web study Feb. 4-March 7, 2014, with nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who had completed at least a bachelor's degree.

Internships and cooperative programs have been in place on college campuses for years, but the number of students taking advantage of these programs has been rising, which may be reflected in the higher percentage of more recent graduates who recall participating in a type of program that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom. Fewer than one in four graduates who received their degrees before 1980 strongly agreed that they had taken part in such programs while in school, but the percentage rises incrementally in every decade after.

Some of this increase may be in response to the challenging economic climate. While internships used to be only for professional fields, schools have been expanding their offerings to meet the needs of employers who have come to expect to see internships on resumes. In fact, a 2012 survey of employers who hire recent graduates for The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media's "Marketplace" showed these employers placed more weight on internships and employment during school than graduates' GPA, where they went to school, their major and other academic credentials.

Women, Blacks Slightly More Likely to Report Interning During College

Regardless of when they graduated, female graduates for the most part lead male graduates in strongly agreeing that as undergrads, they took part in internships and jobs where they applied what they were learning. Still, the differences are not that large: 31% of all female graduates say they took part in these type of internships and jobs versus 27% of all male graduates.

graph 2

Black graduates (32%) are slightly more likely than white (29%), Hispanic (29%) and Asian graduates (26%) to report participating in internships and jobs where they applied what they were learning.

Beyond that, there is more parity among several major graduate groups. Graduates of public universities (28%) are not much less likely than graduates of private universities (31%) and first-generation graduates (29%) are as likely as non-first generation graduates (30%) to report taking part in these internships and jobs in college.

Graduates With Applied Internships More Likely to Feel Prepared After College

Internships and jobs during college are designed to help bridge the gap between school and work and help students understand their future job, profession or field. While the study does not ask whether these internships succeeded in this goal, it does ask whether graduates feel their colleges prepared them well for life after college. Graduates who report having taken part in an internship that used what they were learning in the classroom are much more likely than others to strongly agree that college prepared them well for life after they graduated -- 48% to 19%.

graph 3

Bottom Line

As the number of universities increase in the U.S., the competition for better equipping students with the tools to succeed in life will also increase. The ability of a graduate to bridge classroom learning with real-world experience appears paramount to their preparedness for life after college. Unfortunately, slightly fewer than one in three of all graduates are able to recall having this experience, leaving plenty of room for improvement for future graduating classes. While women and blacks are slightly more likely to have this experience, what may be more notable is that no demographic appears to be excluded.

"Opportunities to combine study with related work experiences have long been emphasized at Purdue," says Purdue University President Mitch Daniels. "But these data tell us that we must do more, and make them expected and typical."

But beyond feeling prepared for life after college, the Gallup-Purdue University study shows participating in applied internships also matters to jobs after college. How they matter will be analyzed in more detail in an article next week, but one of the key findings is that if employed graduates had these internship and job experiences as undergrads, their odds of being engaged -- meaning they are involved in and enthusiastic about their work -- are twice as high.

"It's time for employers and universities to work together, focusing on improving graduates' communication, critical thinking and collaboration skills," says President and CEO of Lumina Foundation Jamie Merisotis. "These are skills that can often be developed through work opportunities like applied internships, community and national service, and experiential learning as complements to a rigorous academic program."

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup-Purdue Index study are based on Web interviews conducted Feb. 4- March 7, 2014, with a random sample of 29,560 respondents with a bachelor's degree or higher, aged 18 and older, with Internet access, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of bachelor's degree or higher respondents, the margin of sampling error is ±0.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

The Gallup-Purdue Index sample was compiled from two sources; the Gallup Panel and the Gallup Daily Tracking survey.

Learn more about the Gallup-Purdue Index methodology.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030