Go back to Step 7: Finalize your application
5. Consider an internship. Indian education has always been a mystery to Americans. On the one hand, Indians are seen as extremely strong in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Indian doctors and academics are highly respected in America. Indian entrepreneurs are numerous and hire tens of thousands of Americans in their companies. Some Americans have begun to question if the rote learning approach of Indian students - work hard, memorize and test well - is superior to the American system of education which focuses on creativity, curiosity and ambition.
On the other hand, as the number of Indian schools and colleges has ballooned, a question which dogs Indian leaders of business and industry is whether Indian education prepares children for the workforce, and by extension, graduate education. In a controversial essay in the New York Times on May 23, 2012, Mohit Chandra, a KPMG partner has criticized current Indian graduates as being substandard, lacking ambition, frustrating and of limited productivity. Chandra says that fewer than 10 percent of the graduating class are highly skilled but the vast majority fails to offer five key attributes which employers seek. These include an ability to speak and write English fluently, and the capacity to do creative problem-solving and thinking out of the box - attributes which are stressed in US education models.
Our goal is not to solve the problems of Indian or American education, but to advise students who are about to seek the latter better differentiate themselves. And this can be through an internship. The benefits of internships are well known. We will refer you to an excellent Monster post here. While this article is about the value of internships to secure jobs, you can see that internships can be used to differentiate yourself during college admissions as well. For us, the most important benefit is the recommendation letter you can get from your internship contact.
Whenever we mention internships, students ask us several questions. When should you pursue an internship? [If you are an engineering student, it's best to start an internship when you are in your pre-final year - between your 6th and 7th semesters]. Should the internship be paid or unpaid? [It does not matter]. Should it be in India or abroad? [If you can swing an international internship, it looks good on your profile but what matters more is what you get to do on an internship, not where you do it. Branding matters. If you wish to pursue a Masters in Computer Science and can intern at Intel in India, this has a lot more value than an internship at a machine tool manufacturer in Germany]. Do internships at an NGO count? [Absolutely. If you develop a website for your local temple, streamline patron lists through an open source Customer Relationship Management tool and help increase funds raised for the temple, this can be a tremendous internship experience for you].
But how can you find an internship? If you are in India, one of the best sites that lists internship opportunities is EduInfo. The site lists internship opportunities by field (e.g. Civil Engineering); by location (e.g. Gandhinagar); by competence (e.g. Application Development); and core discipline (e.g. Bachelors/Masters). You can even browse through international internship opportunities. The site has a huge Facebook following as well.
Completing an internship allows you to describe your experience in your Personal Statement. As reported in the New York Times, a Stanford Business school admissions official said that her team might sift through personal statements for evidence of engagement and leadership. “Where have you shown initiative?” she said. “Where have you taken on an active role in a project, a team, an organization, a group and made a difference?”
Sometimes,getting a meaningful internship may not be possible or practical. In such cases, it may make sense to work full time in India for a short time before going to the US. This route, however, needs careful consideration because there are both benefits and drawbacks.