Just as an internship can be vital to preparing fresh post grads for their transition to lives as young professionals, internships can offer invaluable experience for students as well.

Although the classroom is a wonderful space for learning and personal growth, there’s only so much of both that can be achieved within its confines; that’s where an internship can help. I have interned at a number of places over the course of my undergraduate career, and from the worldwide media production companies to the literary magazines and my current stint in PR, my time as an intern has given me a skillset that has led to success in the classroom and beyond. Here are four ways that a hands-on internship experience can actually make you a better student:

  1. Research, Research, Research: Thanks to a number of internships, I now know that this should always be the first step in starting any sort of project, simply because it’s hard to do a job correctly if one has an incomplete (or worse, incorrect) idea of what’s going on. Research ensures that you’re on the correct page and handling your task correctly. Additionally, preparation begets other good fortune. Once you’re comfortable with the information you’re handling, you’ll be able to approach the project with less of an eye on minutia and a greater focus on creativity and efficiency. Compiling information isn’t enough, though…
  2. Remember that Presentation is Key: A variation of the “It’s not what you say, but it’s how you say it” maxim, my internship has taught me that while what one has to say is important, it’s also incredibly important to present the information well. No boss wants to read a garbled and awkwardly phrased client report, just as no professor wants to read a similarly inept term paper. Reports and essays could be brimming with good ideas, but if such ideas aren’t properly expressed, then they go to waste. Sometimes it’s as easy as taking an extra few minutes to format or otherwise spruce up, but those minutes can make a world of difference.
  3. Learn to Multitask: All of my internships have taken place in fast-paced environments, and Momentum is no different. Typical of these environments (and most healthy workplaces, I’d imagine) is the imperative to get many tasks done simultaneously, often on a deadline. While it’s common to feel overwhelmed when things pile up, multitasking is a skill that professionals in any sort of field must have. Learning how to handle multiple tasks at once will also help when I’m assigned books upon books of reading for whatever obscure literature course I’ll be taking this year. Keep a to-do list, but also keep in mind that you won’t always be able to start at the top and cross your way off vertically to the bottom—you might have to zigzag your way on down.
  4. Maintain Confidence: “You play this game with fear and arrogance,” said Kevin Costner to Tim Robbins towards the end of the classic comedy Bull Durham. He was talking about baseball, of course, but the lesson can really apply to any sort of field. It’s hard to get anywhere without a certain baseline level of confidence, a certainty in one’s gut that “yes, I can do this.” However—and this is where the fear part comes in—you can’t let self-assuredness negatively affect your work. Fear is good; fear makes me proofread and keeps me from making the mistakes—both small and large—that I need to avoid. A balance needs to be reached between being afraid of making mistakes and being confident enough to trust yourself with difficult tasks.

In the end, it’s all about effort. That’s undoubtedly the biggest lesson both my internship and classes have taught me. No matter how talented a person is, if that individual doesn’t care about the job they’re doing, or doesn’t give it the proper time and attention, their performance is going to suffer greatly. And let’s face it—the bell curve is shaped that way for a reason; chances are, you and your competition aren’t separated by too much in terms of raw talent, so the battles in your life are often going to be about effort and little else. If you can muster up some passion for what you’re doing (or better yet, sample a lot of different fields early on and find something about which you’re naturally passionate), you’ll be going places.