What do you want to be when you grow up?

In Kindergarten, it was a ninja. In the fourth grade, I went through an artsy phase and wore berets a lot. In middle school, I bounced between a pro soccer player and actor. By the time that high school rolled around, I had suffered a bad break in my leg, and was convinced that an orthopedic surgeon was the right path.

So where did I end up? Alas, I didn’t make it to the silver screen or become the next Van Gogh. I began college as a biology major, changed about five times, and ultimately ended up in a great career. However, it definitely wasn’t without some major (literally) exploration; and as much as my academic studies taught me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at without my real world experience—also known as internships.

As a freshman, I thought it was all about the grades, but thanks to the fantastic advice from upperclassmen, alumni, and career counselors, I learned that internships were worth their weight in gold (or job opportunities I should say). I did several internships—yes, several—and you should too.

Here are the five best reasons to do an internship:

  1. Resume Building– Can you imagine walking into the interview for your dream job with not much to show for it other than a college degree? Me neither. Actually, chances are you probably won’t even be getting in the door. Dr. Philip D. Gardner, research director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, says that internship experience is “just one of those things you have to have before employers will even consider looking at your resume.”
  2. Real World Experience- According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an overwhelming 95 percent of employers said that “candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions;” and about half of those employers wanted recent grads to have experience from internships or co-op programs. Talk about a career builder.
  3. Connections & Networking- Ever heard that it’s not what you know, but who you know? As frustrating as this concept can be, it’s also a very real factor in finding employment. Internships give you the opportunity to meet people—the right people. In fact, Internships.com reported that in 2012 a healthy 69 percent of companies with 100 or more employees offered full-time jobs to their interns.
  4. Skill Building- Think about all the stuff you learned in college. Your brain was as full of knowledge as your wallet was empty after buying textbooks. The same goes for learning in a professional environment, and many employers value work experience over academic prowess. As an intern, you