Internships: One More Advantage of College in Europe

As many of you know, Beyond the States was formed in response to my concerns about the state of higher education in the US.  Of course, ever rising tuition and the high stress admissions process were my two greatest worries, but I was also troubled by the post-graduation prospects for many grads these days. For recent college graduates under the age of 25 has risen to 9%(compared with 5.5 percent in 2007) and nearly half of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed, meaning the jobs they can get don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

I read these facts in There is Life After College by Jeffrey J. Selingo.  This book gives recent and soon to be college graduates advice regarding ways to increase their employability.  Selingo spends a good amount of time talking about the importance of internships.  He noted that few schools in the US required internships or helped students find them and only 1 in 3 graduates had an internship in college. This, despite the fact that, internships are a fast track to a job. According to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, employers hire around 50% of the interns who worked for them as full time workers after graduation and in some fields it is closer to 75%.

Internships help students learn how to apply what they have learned in the classroom. They are learning relevant skills, seeing what others are responsible for and gaining exposure to occupations that they might not have known about. They are able to try out an industry, role or organization while also building contacts and gaining relevant experience for their resumes.

One thing that sets bachelor’s programs in Europe apart from those in the US is that most programs in Europe have at least one semester set aside for an internship. Often, internship semesters are required. Having a semester to do internships removes many of the obstacles that students in the US report. With the dedicated semester, students don’t have to choose between a paying summer job or an internship, they don’t have to juggle internship duties and class work, they aren’t competing with all the summer internship applicants, and the internships can be completed in countries outside of the one they are studying in.

Internship placements are often handled by the student’s study department, but some schools have an office devoted to handling internships, like IESEG School of Management LINK in France.  The business administration program has a really interesting internship program. Each year of the three-year program, the student has an internship focusing on a different level of management.  The first year includes a one-month labor internship.  The second year has a three-month internship at an assistant level and the third year has a three-month management internship.  This allows students to have firsthand knowledge of how each level of an organization is impacted by the other.

There are many international companies with locations and internships offered throughout Europe.  Google offers internships related to business, software engineering, legal work, and customer service in many of their European locations. Others include BP, JP Morgan, Accenture, AIG, Deloitte, Bayer, Cisco, Bayer, and BMW.  Many schools have partnerships with these companies that help place their students in internships.  These are not limited to business related internships.  Many of these companies have internships that related to engineering, science, and other fields of study.

I think the opportunities that are unique to Europe are especially interesting.  Students can intern with the International Center for Counter Terrorism or the International Criminal Courts in The Hague.  The World Health Organization is headquartered in Geneva. The UN Regional Center is in Brussels.  Students who are interested in sustainable energy can intern with European Energy in Copenhagen. The options are truly extraordinary.

I often mention Estonia in my presentations and blogs.  I could not have told you where Estonia was on the map a few years ago, but it is now one of my favorite places.  It’s also a great place for students looking for engineering internships at places like NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center and the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center.  Skype was founded in Estonia and they have internships in Tallinn, Stockholm, and Prague.

I am really excited by the internship opportunities our members and my own children will have when studying in Europe. Selingo believes that “For American education to remain relevant to students, it must abandon the antiquated idea that schools and colleges broadly educate people for life, while employers train them for jobs. It’s not either or anymore. Given the amount of money parents and students spend on a degree, there is no reason colleges shouldn’t provide both a broad education as well as the specific training and skills needed for the workplace”.  I have said before that I hope that reform does happen in the US and includes some of Selingo’s ideas about internships.  That said, I am not optimistic that such reform will occur in the immediate future, so I am thrilled to have an alternative route that provides solutions to these problems.

College in Europe: Good or Bad for Job Prospects?

pbcover-whereyougoI’m reading a fabulous book right now called Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni.  The book talks about how Americans put too much emphasis on brand name schools.  He shows research and case studies that counter this mindset.  One recent study he mentioned interviewed 550 American leaders, including CEO’s, non-profit leaders, and government officials.  This study found that the “reputations of the colleges that they attended, he discovered, seemed to matter much less than the reputations of the graduate schools that they moved to, and they weren’t shut out of these graduate schools on the basis of where they’d applied from”.

I talked to hiring managers in the fields of banking, technology, and bio-technology and heard similar things.  They said that, as long as the school is accredited, the country in which the degree was acquired does not matter in the least.  Most companies have become quite global so they are working with people who have been educated around the world. Thus, most companies don’t bat an eye at what country one’s bachelor’s degree came from.

Times Higher Education’s article on global employability noted the same. They found that,  “As recruiters develop a better knowledge and understanding of the global higher education market, reputation plays less of a role and expertise [plays] more,” explains Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of Emerging, a French human resources consulting firm. “The nationality of young graduates, the country in which they studied and the nationality of the company that employs them is becoming increasingly irrelevant.”

So if the country your degree comes from is a neutral factor, why do I think that you will have an advantage when seeking employment if you study in Europe? It’s due to the skills you acquire through studying outside of your own country and the qualities you most likely have to even want to study elsewhere in the first place.

One of the hiring managers I spoke with said that Americans often come to them needing soft skills 3cultural appreciation training as well as “soft skills” training.  Students who have studied outside of their home country come to the table with a comfort level with cultural differences.  The emphasis on group work at schools in Europe provides experience in working with different perspectives.  The graduates are often flexible, adaptable, and experienced navigating unfamiliar circumstances  – all of which lead to success in the workplace.

Bruni’s book pointed to the same.  He interviewed Dick Parsons, whose professional accomplishments include being the chairman and chief executive of Time Warner, the chairman of Citigroup, a member on the economic advisory board team under Obama, and interim chief executive of LA Clippers.  He ended up going to the University of Hawaii, far away from his home in New York.  He noted that after law school, nobody cared where he went to college and pointed out that with the exception of a few big names, nobody knows what the school means anyway.  What he has found in his life is that “the degree is no substitute for abilities nurtured outside of the classroom.”  By being so far away from home he gained the skills he believes to be crucial to success, which he defines as “the ability to relate to people, to be comfortable with risk, to manage ambiguity and to be resilient.” Acquiring a degree outside of your own country lead to all of those skills.  The English taught programs we profile have students from all around the world, not just the country in which it is held.  You will learn to relate to people with different backgrounds and perspectives in classrooms and in housing situations.  You will be dealing with different grading structures, educational models, languages, foods- all away from the safety at home.  There is not a way you can manage that without developing the skills that Parsons notes are essential.

Almost all of the programs I visited throughout Europe have an optional or required internship.  Some schools have more than one required internship. The business schools place students in internships with companies like Deloitte, Accenture, and Bayer.  Students at employers-criteria-for-selecting-graduates-121115-smallschools in the Hague have opportunities to intern at counter terrorism organizations or the international courts.  Not only do the internships give students connections when seeking employment, they also provide the students with skills and experience that are valued by employers. The Times Higher Education article I referenced earlier included the results of Emerging’s Global Employability University Survey. Their results found that, “In graduates, employers also want to see the same attributes: in all continents, specific skills are the most important factor, followed by professional experience and area of degree specialization. On average, grades come bottom of the priority list.”

So does going to school in Europe guarantee you will get a job?  No.  That said, going to school in America doesn’t mean you will get a job either with just 53% of college freshmen earning a degree within six years and 42% of US college graduates planning to move in with their parents after graduation.  My belief is that going to college in Europe will not decrease your chances of getting a job and will also provide you with experiences, skills and qualities that will set you apart from other applicants. Going to college in Europe is definitely not for everyone, but if it speaks to you, I encourage you to not let fear of the unknown hold you back.