How Do I Find an Internship?
There are many internship opportunities available, in fact many organizations are unable to fill the internship openings they have available for a lack of qualified applicants so don't worry, there is something out there for you. The first place to start searching for an internship is within your own college. Talk with your professors and check out the Career Resource Center for possible internship opportunities. If you already have a specific organization in mind, contact them directly for internship information. Don't be afraid to places that seem "unreachable" it can't hurt to apply and you may be surprised.
The University of Florida carries a lot of weight in Washington. You'll find that many of the Representatives and Senators from the Florida delegation are alumni and give preferential treatment to UF students. If you're not a native of Gainesville you should also look at the offices of members from your own district as almost all of the Congressional offices in Washington select interns that have an affiliation to their district.
If you have your heart set on interning in Washington for a specific term you'll want to send out applications to several offices and always have a backup plan. If money is an issue you'll also want to check and see if the internship is paid or offers any kind of stipend. Almost no governmental internships are paid and those that do offer a stipend are usually so small that it won't even pay your transportation costs. For example, my three-month internship cost me around $4,000 when I added in the cost of housing, food, clothing and transportation. You'll need to look at your finances to see what kind of internship you can afford.
When Should I Submit My Application?
In addition to any security requirements, it's been my experience that in some offices, the earlier an application is submitted, the greater the chance of acceptance. If you're looking to intern in one of the branches of government, you'll also want to pay close attention to the legislative calendar for both the House and Senate available on their websites, www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. Believe it or not, selecting interns is not very high on the priority list for legislative staff so if you submit your application during a time when Congress is in session don't expect a response anytime soon. If you haven't heard about your application in a while and you'd like to call to check the status try to call when Congress is in recess or on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons when it's likely that no votes are scheduled.
How Do I Apply?
I've Been Accepted, Now What?
If you're interning during the summer months many times you can rent housing through one of the local colleges or universities. There are also various short-term housing organizations setup specifically for interns that have 3-5 month leases depending on the length of your internship and you can always check the local papers for subleases that may be available. Housing in Washington will by far be the most expensive part of your internship. My rent to share a very small one-bedroom apartment was $950 a month. Ouch!
The further you get from the city, the more affordable housing becomes but transportation is also a big problem in DC. There is extremely limited parking and the traffic is a nightmare if you can avoid taking a car you’ll be better off for it in the long run. The Metro is by far the easiest way to get around with the occasional taxi ride. You'll also have to figure out how you plan to get to Washington in the first place. Regan National Airport is the most accessible to the city and is on the Metro line. If you're flying into one of the neighboring airports you'll need to factor in an additional $50 for transportation back into the city. Washington is also serviced by Amtrak, which has daily arrivals and departures from Union Station.
You'll also need to plan an appropriate wardrobe for your stay in Washington. The summers in DC can be just as bad if not worse than the Florida heat and in the winters you can expect lots of snow. As if the weather wasn't enough to deal with you'll also have to deal with differing office dress codes. Talk to your internship coordinator about what is appropriate dress for the office, in many cases you'll find that it is fairly formal. I had to go buy a few business suits. My advice: shop the sales and whenever possible don't by anything that has to be dry cleaned if you can avoid it. Also, be sure you have comfortable shoes, those 2" heals may look great with your new suit, but I guarantee you do not want to be walking around the city in them. If you've never worked in a situation like this, plan to spend another $200 - $300 on clothing.
You'll need to sit down and have a serious look at your finances. Not just your preparation, living and travel expenses but also emergency cash for any unexpected expenses you may not be expecting. You'll need to see if you have access to your local bank while in Washington and if not how you can make accommodations for that. How will you pay your regular bills while your in Washington? I personally found that the mail service in DC is not as reliable as in Gainesville so I setup online bill payments for my credit cards and cell phone bills so I wouldn't have to worry about forwarding mail.
How are you going to keep in touch with the rest of the world while you're away? I personally found my Internet access and my cell phone to be an invaluable "lifeline" to my friends and family while I was gone. You may want to check with your cell phone provider to see if you can change your calling plan to include the DC area and signup for some kind of plan that includes extra minutes and long distance. Find a calling card with a good rate and use that rather than paying long distance phone bills. I recommend phone cards you can buy from the warehouse clubs, I've found they traditionally have better than average rates.
Lastly, remember that this is the big city and things do happen, I suggest taking at least two credit cards and two official forms of identification and always keeping them separate incase your wallet is to get lost or stolen. You may also want to call your credit card company and see about having your line of credit increased for the months you're in Washington. I found using one credit card for all of my purchases was much easier to keep track of my expenses and I only had one bill to pay at the end of the month. The key to a successful intern experience is to be prepared.
This site created by Katie Floyd FloydKL@ufl.edu