Hands-on Learning Opportunities

Are you building the job skills employers want? According to a 2020 survey conducted by the National Association of College and Employers, employers are looking for job applicants with hands-on skills in teamwork (86%) and problem-solving (91%).

Colleges have tons of skill-building opportunities to help students launch successful careers—if you know where to look! Whether you have a specific career path in mind or are still looking for your passion, here are some real-world programs and work opportunities to look out for during your college search. For more ideas, check out the latest edition of Colleges That Create Futures.

Hands-on OpportunityReal Campus Example
Cooperative Education Find a college with a cooperative education program (co-op), where students alternate paid professional experiences with course work. Take classes for 1 semester, work full-time for 1 semester, and repeat. Northeastern University puts students in 11,000 co-op placements last year! Co-op coordinators work with students one-on-one to prepare for co-op, find and apply to jobs, and reflect on the overall experience.

Externship Set up an externship over spring break and get an introduction to potential career fields. Externships are  temporary job-shadowing programs that last anywhere from an afternoon to a few weeks. Students in the  Babson College Externship Program, students spend 1–5 days observing professionals on the job during school breaks. The program is geared toward first-year students, so that they can start identifying their strengths and career interests early on.
Internship Find an internship that works with your class schedule to get some on-the-job training. Internships give you the  opportunity to work for a company or nonprofit organization for a limited amount of time, anywhere from a week to a semester. These can be paid or unpaid (though many schools have programs that will fund unpaid or low-paying internships) and allow interns to learn more about a field of interest while completing tasks or projects alongside real employees. Every year, 500 students in the Field Work program at Vassar College engage in internships off campus, lending their talents to nonprofits, government agencies, human services organizations, and businesses.
Leadership training Take a leadership training workshop to gain crucial skills like communication and teamwork. Leadership training can happen  informally through your involvement with campus organizations, and many colleges have dedicated leadership centers to train and mentor students.

Undergrads at Gettysburg College can work with Leadership Coaches to apply for positions on campus and beyond. It's all part of the process to earn a Leadership Certificate from the Garthwait Leadership Center.

 Project Develop your own passion project to hone skills that wow employers and grad schools. Projects are extended problem-solving activities that you can complete solo or in collaboration with a group. A few examples:
  • a research-based thesis
  • works of art (plays, photography, or musical compositions)
  • productions and performances (curating an exhibit or giving a recital)
  • designing a prototype
  • writing a computer program
  • drafting a business plan
Through the Arizona State University  Arts Venture Incubator, students can secure training, seed-funding, and one-on-one coaching to develop creative ventures for artists.
 Research Get involved with on-campus research: a scholarly or artistic activity that produces new knowledge. Research experiences can include working alongside your professor in a lab, writing a thesis, or completing a capstone project for your major. At Binghamton University, Summer Scholars and Artists Fellowships fund student research and creative projects during the summer.
Service Learning Get involved with service learning and make a real difference in your college community. Just like it sounds, service learning c ombines a learning experience with community service. You'll develop a greater understanding of community issues and gain skills in critical-thinking and collaboration. Sharpe Community Scholars at William & Mary participate in local community projects that develop their problem-solving skills.
 Student organizations Join a campus club where you can have fun and develop leadership and teamwork experience along the way. Student organizations b ring together students with a common interest in anything from  sustainability to investment banking.  Students on the Alma College Model UN team debate current issues, earning valuable skills in public speaking and negotiation.
Study Abroad Take advantage of an opportunity to study, work, or intern in another country. Colleges with robust study abroad programs help facilitate these academic and cultural experiences. 

Business and engineering sophomores in the University of Pittsburgh Plus3 Program can study the smartphone industry in China, car manufacturing in Germany, or coffee production in Costa Rica.

Unique Facilities Find the theater, lab, newsroom, or makerspace on campus that lets you build skills while doing something you love.  Trinity University has professional radio and HD TV stations on campus where students produce their own content.

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