Experience as a University Student vs Intern

Throughout my time in university, I’ve had 4 summer internships during my 4 years in university. Here’s my take on the different lifestyles and learnings that I had as a student and as an intern.


Time management

As a student, I cannot deny how pleasant and flexible our lifestyle is. We can freely control the time that we have, where we can choose when to view our online lectures, hang out with friends and even study at the last minute before an exam.

As an intern, the lifestyle is different especially if you do not practice a fixed schedule. Weekday’s felt long, with the 9-5 schedule (and there might be overtime work as well) in exchange for valuable professional experience. I personally learn to cherish the free time that I have especially on the weekends and I had to make sure to plan ahead of my days so that I do not lose valuable time to work on myself, aka work-life balance.


Learning methods

The learning progress as a student is well-structured in many ways as we have formal classes to attend and set assignments to complete.

As for an intern, my learning progress is through the work that was given. A big take from my internship was to learn how to learn, as most times the task that is assigned to you is not related to the field of study and you are expected to learn ‘on-the-job’ independently. For example, despite being a mechanical engineering student, I worked on social studies and the investment market and I had close to zero prior knowledge. In essence, learning how to research, find resources and understanding concepts quickly has been the biggest learning through the internships that I had.

Overall, both learning methods have their pros and cons but I would personally prefer learning on the job, simply because my learning outcome felt more fruitful because I am mastering skills that are used in real-life applications through the business unit of your company. Structured learning felt less effective in that sense, however, it served as a good introduction and foundation to the expected skills that we should hone before jumping into the working life.


Friends and connections

In university, most of the people that we interact with are people of similar age. To me, it is important to mingle with a wide variety of friends in university as we get to understand various culture especially in an international university and learn from each other besides having fun.

In comparison to internships, we will usually encounter people that are much older than us in the workplace. This gives us an opportunity to speak with people of more experience and industry leaders to better understand our field of interest. This opens up a lot of learning and growth opportunities especially in understanding your career aspiration and broadening your connections (which will come in handy when you apply for future jobs).


Outcome expectations

As a student, grades become a measure of achievement. Similar to the Key Performance Index (KPI) that you need to achieve in the company, grades give employers a good reflection of your strengths and weaknesses apart from the soft skills that you hone. As such, it is important to achieve at least the minimum grade requirements for a good first impression when applying for a job.

In an internship, I realise that our thought process and learning process is an achievement to be sought after. As mentioned from the passages above, an internship is a wholesome learning experience as most of the time employers do not expect you to know everything in a short period of time. Rather, your enthusiasm, drive to excel and attitude to the job are what makes you shine as an intern and it tells how will you act as a potential employee in the future.


In overall…

Being a university student or an intern serves many benefits to your personal growth and we should be grateful to have such opportunities to learn. Regardless of the experience we have, we should always keep in mind that we make the most out of the situation and try to gain as much experience as possible. Learning is a lifelong journey 🙂

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