As many college students and employers alike can attest, the right internship can serve not just as an educational experience, but also as a stepping stone toward a future career.

Internships can be paid or unpaid work that provides students and recent graduates with skills and connections in the workforce. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused many internships to take on a virtual format, trends across the country are changing, and more students are back to working in-person, according to the National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) 2021 Report.

“There have been a lot of changes in the internship world,” says Jason Chapin, Director of Workforce Development at Westchester County Association (WCA). “Employers realized that they had to refocus and reshape their model, so a lot of them are paying interns now.”

Many colleges have student internship requirements, and more employers in the Westchester area have started offering paid internships. For students who take unpaid internships, some local colleges such as Mercy College offer internship grants.

“Not all of our programs at Mercy require students to complete internships, but we strongly encourage our students to do them,” explains Sara Shepherd, the Director of Employer Relations at Mercy College. “There are countless benefits to students completing internships, such as boosting their confidence in their field of study, learning through hands-on experience, and building their professional network.”

The internship grant at Mercy allows undergraduate students to take unpaid internships for a minimum of 135 hours. The students can then apply for the grant program and, if selected, will receive $2,025 in the fall or spring semester for their internship work. In addition to a stipend, students with the grant can earn academic credit for their work.

“Most of our students are completing internships in-person, but we also see many students landing remote and hybrid roles,” says Shepherd. “It depends on the industry, employer, and where the internship is taking place.”

It can be difficult for students to take unpaid internships because they are often living away from home and have more financial responsibility. Around 40% of students said they wanted to accept an internship offer, but couldn’t because they needed paid work, according to the NSCI Report.

“Internships are so valuable to student success,” observes Lyn Leis, the Director of Career Education at Mercy College. “We know that the associated costs can sometimes be a barrier to students completing them, so we are so proud of the grant initiative that provides equitable access to these experiences.”

In addition to the internship grant, Mercy operates a Career Closet to offer free professional attire to students. Mercy hopes that, when going to job interviews or in-person internships, students can tap into this resource to make a good first impression with employers.

“We are a Hispanic-serving institution with a student population that is majority Black, Hispanic, and first generation,” says Leis. “Year after year we see that graduates who have completed internships receive more job offers and higher starting salaries than graduates who have not.”

There are a variety of different organizations and companies in the Westchester area that offer paid internship opportunities for students. In White Plains, companies such as UBSZEISS Group, and Veterinary Emergency Group have internships in which students can earn $20 or more an hour while gaining hands-on professional experience in different fields.

“If you are attending a local college, it’s great to get exposure with local employers,” notes Chapin. “Internships help students develop skills and learn whether or not they like an organization and the kind of work they do.”

Other companies with locations in Westchester, such as CohnReznick, have paid internship programs that run year-round and allow for professional development and future employment opportunities. CohnReznick is one of the leading advisory, assurance, and tax firms in the United States and is a member of the WCA. Its internship program ranked number 18 among the Vault 100 Best Internships for 2022.

“The WCA works with a lot of accounting firms who are ambitious about internships,” says Chapin. “The firms that we work with in Westchester are already trying to fill paid summer internships for 2024 and 2025. Many of those internships are on a career track so students could know by the end of their junior year if there will be any employment opportunities after they graduate.”

As employers and colleges begin to prioritize the financial aspect of internships, more students may be able to accept opportunities in their field of interest. The partnership between employers, colleges, and associations such as the WCA expands possibilities for students as internship trends continue to shift across the country and in the Westchester area.