Public Administration Internships

It’s that time of year again. And it’s an important time. Actually, it is huge if you are a serious contender for a public internship. January and February are the height of the open-close intern application season, particularly for summer work. Although some companies accept applications outside of these months, they’re more the exception than the rule.

Internships, enjoying increased popularity these days, provide a gateway into the professional workforce for many students who would otherwise have a sparse or uninspiring resume. It also provides a “test-drive” for college students to see if a particular job/industry is a good match for them. Internships have evolved. In a sense they’re having their comeuppance since the 1970’s when they were not as much in demand. Internships are, in a way, descendants of the apprentice programs that started in Europe in the 11th and 12 centuries. Apprentices worked under master craftsmen to learn their trade, Formal internships, first developed by business schools, did not truly take hold until the 1980s.They were straightforward without many options.


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The State of Internships

Today internships exist in many shapes and forms. Some pay. Some do not. Some are summer long. Others last a year or more. Most require some college, though others want one degree or more. From a simple one-page application to a detailed multi-page essay, companies vary in what and whom they want. Grade point average is critical for a few. For others, not so much, opting for a “fire-the-belly” candidate who’s passionate about children, animals, politics, etc.

Choice internships, those that are paid or sponsored by well-known organizations, are highly competitive. The doors open for some of the applications – the majority of which are now online – as early as October. This long application span provides companies and government organizations a chance to receive and review more applicant information from the best and the brightest than the shorter periods. So the good news is the opportunities are plentiful. Of all the job shortage problems we have in this country, an internship is not one of them. Fields like healthcare are always in need of help and embrace the capable and the willing. But landing a plum placement in your area of interest or specialty brings more of a challenge. If, for example finance and/or federal government/politics are more in line with your major, the task might be more daunting for several reasons.

First, government on the national scale is large, cumbersome and difficult to grasp all the important nuances, despite the overhaul of its internship programs. Secondly, finance internships are very competitive and more likely to be found in the private sector. The process for applying to some internship programs is tantamount to applying to college with the requisite grade point average, recommendations and a superior essay. Just as students are seeking to find the right fit, companies are doing the same. This article presents internships offered by non-profit, public and government groups. They represent a cross section of industries and national advocates – human rights, children’s rights, animal rights to name a few. Perhaps the largest single-source public entity is the federal government, which offers some sort of internship in just about every agency. Once again, the application span for many agencies is often short and many closed their vacancies for summer offerings at the end of January.

The federal government has totally revamped its internship programs, changing its name as well as the rules and procedures, attempting to make the process more streamline, transparent and uniform. An executive order established the “Pathways” program in July 2012. Deemed as more student-friendly it encompasses three special hiring initiatives: Internship – for current students; Recent Graduate Program – for recent (replaces the defunct Federal Career Intern Program) college graduate with other stipulations; and Presidential Management Fellows Program – for certain academic disciplines and qualifying advanced degrees.

It goes without saying the White House Internship program is very competitive. Undergrads and graduate students began applying in November for summer 2013 internships. It is one of the few programs that do not require applicants to be in college or have received a degree. A veteran of the United States Armed Forces who possesses a high school diploma or its equivalent and has served on active duty, for any length of time, in the two years preceding the first day of the internship is also eligible. It stops taking applications the end of January for the summer. Fall internship applications for The White House are being accepted now through April 7. Notifications of acceptance begin May 6. Those internships run from September through December 2014. The White House internships all take place in the nation’s capital where selected participants are placed in various departments. Applicants are encouraged to submit a thorough application that illustrates qualifications, character, and commitment to public service. A completed application includes two essay questions, two letters of recommendation, and a resume. They are looking for a commitment to public service and demonstrated leadership within the community.

Keep in mind these are unpaid positions with no stipends meaning participants must find and pay for their own housing, food and transportation which can be expensive in the nation’s capital. A review of other federal government agencies shows many have deadlines the last week in January and the first and second week in February. The more competitive internships have much earlier application deadlines. Some well- known organizations do not have a structured internship program but do encourage volunteers through their local chapters or ask for assisting in fundraising or in planning special programs. The process for these groups varies across the spectrum. A few have advertised blindly through social media, craigslist…etc. Some work through third parties to obtain their applicant pool. Others do not provide information directly on their website prompting searchers to go into “exhaustive” search mode to see what’s available.