Internships, apprenticeships, and other forms of work-study experience are increasingly essential for students looking to make their mark in a competitive workplace after graduation. Not only do these opportunities supply students with invaluable skills and knowledge to supplement classroom discoveries, they often lead directly to promising post-graduation jobs—and that first big step up on the career ladder.

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey of over 15,000 seniors revealed that 60 percent of respondents with paid internships received job offers. Likewise, those with unpaid internships tended to fare better than other respondents. Additionally, the likelihood of landing work increased substantially for those with multiple internships.

It's no secret that internships and apprenticeships are valuable but scoring them can prove surprisingly difficult. The more students understand how they stand to benefit from these opportunities, the more competitive they become. Some especially promising internships may see dozens, even hundreds of applicants—even when they don't offer pay. With such competition all but guaranteed, it stands to reason that students who launch a concerted effort from the very beginning to make themselves attractive to employers will be more likely to land the best opportunities.

Struggling to get started? The following suggestions may help:

1. Maintain a Respectable Grade Point Average

Yes, GPA matters. And yes, you should make every effort to keep your grades up. This particular piece of advice may do you little good if you're currently on the hunt for an internship, but it's certainly worth considering if you're looking ahead to the future.

Keep in mind that what, exactly, constitutes an acceptable GPA will vary somewhat based on your program and the internship you hope to score. In general, organizations offering competitive positions can get away with being choosier about grades. While it's possible to mitigate an average or low GPA with a strong resume and solid interview skills, excellent grades will ensure that a wider range of opportunities remain well within reach.

2. Get Involved in Campus Organizations

Your GPA is only the beginning. You'll also want to demonstrate that you have the specific skills needed to succeed in your desired internship. These include not only technical abilities, but also soft skills such as communication or leadership. These skills can be developed not only in class, but also through involvement with a variety of campus organizations.

As you determine which clubs or teams to join, think carefully about how your participation will help or hinder you in the long run. Yes, it's important to have fun and make friends, but ideally, you will also be able to proudly list your organization of choice on your resume or reference it during interviews.

3. Start Your Search Early

Don't expect an internship to fall into your lap a few weeks before you need it. Your search should begin as soon as possible. At minimum, plan to start searching seriously at least one full semester prior to your ideal internship or apprenticeship's start date. For example, if you intend to intern during the spring semester, you should be on the hunt by October at the latest.

4. Visit the Campus Career Center

A valuable and highly underutilized resource, the career center can provide an abundance of insider information regarding the latest and greatest internship or apprenticeship opportunities. If you struggle to find the time to visit in person, check out your career center's website, where you'll find a wide array of digital resources to get you started on your internship search. Don't underestimate the power of this resource to help you get ahead; LendEDU's 2017 Internship Report revealed that 21 percent of students ultimately scored internships with help from their respective college's career centers.

5. Get Involved in Job Fairs and Other Applicable Campus Events

The career center is by no means the only place on campus where you can find an amazing internship. Your college likely brings a wide range of events and opportunities right to campus to help students such as yourself track down impressive positions. Often, these events bring the region's top employers to campus, allowing you to get your name and your resume out to several prospects at once. If you're short on time, these types of events are definitely worth attending.

Begin with the standard campus career fair. Don't assume, however, that strolling casually through the event will get you an internship. Instead, do your research ahead of time to determine which employers will be in attendance—and how they'll go about recruiting students. Learn as much as possible about these organizations and whether they might have viable opportunities available. Which employer has the best company culture? Which is the most likely to opt for a student with your particular skill set?

While it's best to target your efforts based on the most relevant prospects, you may also benefit from speaking with a variety of potential employers—even if you don't think they actually have available positions that suit your needs. You never know where or when an opportunity could arise. Think creatively about how various organizations can benefit from your skills and natural gifts. Be prepared to highlight those attributes as you discuss opportunities and strive to make an impression.

The right internship or apprenticeship could make all the difference as you look ahead to graduation and post-college prospects. The effort you place into finding and succeeding in an internship could be rewarded down the road with new skills, connections or even job offers. Don't underestimate the value of this opportunity—or the need for swift action as you strive for the perfect internship.

If you are looking to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree, look no further than University of the Cumberlands. With professors who have years of real-world experience in the same field they are teaching, very competitive tuition rates, and a sense of honor in everything we do, why look any further? See what UC can do for you by contacting an admissions counselor for more information.