University Mistakes #2: Ignoring Internships or Practical Experience

This 10 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in University blog series is for any students who are still in school, or about to attend university, so that you can make the best out of your academic career!

Thank you to the dozens of people from around the world who have anonymously shared their biggest regrets in hindsight and what they thought were the biggest mistakes that people make in university. Originally, I wanted to share all 10 at once, but I received so many great responses that I wanted to do a deeper dive on each of the Top 10 mistakes. Check out University Mistake #1 if you haven’t read it yet!

I regret that I didn’t explore any internships and wish I took on more relevant work experiences.


We all face the challenges of seeing “2-5 years of experience” listed as a qualification for new grad positions. Although it’s easy to make excuses and say that you’ve been too busy focusing on your studies, you should actually be taking advantage of the programs and initiatives that are available (e.g. Co-op, Apprenticeship, Job Shadowing, Day in the Life Sessions).

Once again, it is important to realize that your GPA does not guarantee you will get a job. Internships are a critical part of your self-discovery and ambition. Many of my peers initially chose concentrations that they found interesting, but eventually realized that they hated the work after their summer or co-op internships. Fortunately, this led them to switch majors or concentrations into areas that they enjoyed a lot more.

Many internships are also paid, so it is incentivizing to make money as a student. Even if unpaid, the experience itself is valuable in helping you determine what you want to pursue full-time in the future. You will also get a chance to meet potential mentors who can help guide you in your career path—this is invaluable.

When comparing two candidates with the same academic credentials, the one with practical experience and transferrable skills will stand out.

What Can You Do?

Research whether your university offers any internship, co-op, or apprenticeship opportunities; which are usually available in the 2nd or 3rd years of your program. Since many of these programs have pre-requisites (e.g. minimum GPA or specific course requirements), you need to start planning in your 1st year.

Ultimately, you want to leverage the resources available to help you secure an internship or several internships. If you can’t enrol in certain programs because you don’t meet the pre-requisites, look for ways to volunteer and participate in other programs, or seek ways to job shadow your peers or mentors.

What Did I Do?

Initially, I never planned on applying for any internships because I wanted to graduate in 4 years. However, as I got more involved on campus and met older and more experienced peers, I learned that practical experience was really important. Many of them told me that it would be very hard to find a full-time job if I graduated with no work experience against peers who did have experience.

Against my parents’ wishes, I applied for the co-op program in my 2nd year and was fortunate to get in because I met the GPA pre-requisites and passed the panel interview. When it came to looking for internships, I followed the newsletters that our career centre sent out every week and applied for the ones that I was interested in. Funnily enough, I secured the internship of the very first job posting I applied for as an IS Administrator at Husky Energy.

What started out as an 8 month internship ending up as 3 years of corporate work experience under my belt. This was thanks to the incredible mentorship that I received and initiative that I took to create visibility for myself across the entire organization. Furthermore, this experience made me a stronger candidate and helped me land a full-time job at Microsoft right out of university! Plus, the money I earned helped me pay for my 2 international exchanges to Japan and Singapore.

The least you need to know

Internship experiences are the best way for you to get hands on experience and figure out what you want to do in the future.

  1. Be Prepared: Research available programs and make sure that you understand the pre-requisites and criteria.
  2. Build Your Self Awareness: Internships help you figure out what you enjoy doing, how you perform in the workplace, and build your skills and competencies.
  3. Start Early: Seek internships as early as possible so that you can figure things out earlier rather than later in your degree.

Stay tuned for University Mistake #3 and remember to subscribe for my top 3 career resources each month!