6 alternatives to summer internships

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(MoneyWatch) Motivated high school and college students often spend their summers working at low-paying or even nonpaying internships. In view of the competition for prime positions, they should apply for them as early as post-Christmas break. The difficulty in landing one is borne out by the fact that 52 percent of college students reported their school didn't provide them with enough access to internships, according to a new study from Internships.com and Millennial Branding. Given the still-weakened job market and economy, it's simply a reality that some capable candidates won't be able to secure spots and others can't afford to work for so little money on their summer break.

If you find yourself without an internship, you can still gain great experience and build your resume this summer. Here are six smart ideas from career experts who specialize in advising young people on the subject. The good news? These may help you get a fantastic internship (or job) next year.

Tutor others

Consider spending the summer helping classmates or younger students who are struggling in your favorite subject. "To employers, this shows your expertise in a particular subject as well as responsibility and organizational skills," says Robin D. Richards, CEO of Internships.com.

Volunteer on or off campus

Providing your skills for free often allows you to customize your schedule and level of commitment while gaining valuable experience. "Employers look for students who balanced their academics with extracurricular activities," says Heather R. Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended. If you're already volunteering through a student group, ask if you can stay on through the summer.

Take an online class

School's out, but summer classes can bolster your resume. If you have a local university or community college near you, check out their options. Online courses are a convenient alternative. "Thanks to the breadth and depth of the Web, a simple online search can come up with a variety of different learning resources and webinars to help you learn whatever you're interested in," says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of InternMatch. "Choose a skill that will be beneficial to your career."

Consider casual opportunities

An internship doesn't have to be formal to translate into resume-worthy experience. Job shadowing, for example, is an easy way to search your network for nonpaying employment opportunities. "Reach out to family, friends, or community members and offer your skills to their businesses," says Huhman. "By doing this, you can start building your resume and initiative to gain experience in your hometown."

Start a blog

Blogging is a cheap and convenient way to show what you can do, both in terms of highlighting your experience and portfolio as well as demonstrating your actual tech skills. "Blogging is also a great way to build your network and make connections to find future opportunities," says Huhman.

Keep applying

Many internships start in June, but don't let that deter you from continuing to apply. "One important thing to remember is that needs can change quickly at any organization, especially small ones," says Richards. "Pursue internships year-round with less traditional dates and hours."

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on internships. Read Part 2, "The Internship: 6 real-life lessons from the movie," here.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Abac college

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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