Get Hands-On Experience

Hands-on experiences are a critical part of career exploration and skill building. You have to be in an environment to really know whether you want to do that kind of work and whether you are any good at it. Often students come in for advising interested in a particular career, go get a hands-on experience, and come back saying “You know what, that was interesting but it wasn’t what I expected. I don’t think that field is for me.” The earlier you start trying things, the more likely you are to find something that you love.

HDFS students are typically involved in community organizations and extracurricular activities. Many students also work for pay during the school year and summer. Getting career-related hands-on experiences doesn’t mean you have to do more things, it means you have to be more strategic when selecting activities, jobs, and experiences.

Each semester and every summer, pick at least one thing from these lists to do. If you do something and you realize you love it, stick with it and find more experiences in the same field. If you don’t love something you try, think about what you liked and what you didn’t like, and find a new experience focused more on what you did like. When you build your integrated academic and career plan, you’ll see that after 8 semesters and 3 summers, you will have accumulated a wealth of experiences.

Ways to Get Hands-On Experience

Take a class with a hands-on component

Some classes have a very hands-on component to them. Talk to your friends and to academic advisers in departments that interest you to find these courses. Also look at our career pages to find hands-on courses related to a variety of fields.

Volunteer or intern

Most students do a full-time internship during their final semester as an HDFS major. Internships are a way to build occupation-specific skills and professional connections in a field. But the full-semester internship is typically scheduled in your last semester. You want to start getting hands on experiences and exploring careers earlier than that. During your freshman, sophomore, and junior years, you want to engage in volunteer experiences to help you identify your interests. You don’t have to make a major commitment to learn whether you like a particular kind of work. Do a one-day service activity through a student organization. Volunteer for one afternoon a week at a local organization during the school year, or over the summer volunteer at an organization in your hometown for a few hours a week.

Because HDFS students are so involved, we have many resources to help you learn about local organizations and to help you find a good volunteer position.

Information about volunteer and internship opportunities on campus and in the community are available on our career pages.

Also see our internship program website.

Select part-time and summer jobs carefully

Many students have paid work that builds their career-related skills. Students work at summer camps and in daycare centers. They do office work in non-profit organizations and serve meals at nursing homes. These work experiences can expose you to organizations and fields you may want to work in, help you build transferable skills, and develop strong references.

Exposure to fields: You may not be able to get a paid job yet doing exactly what you want, but try to find a lower level job in an organization that serves a population you are interested in or that employs professionals in careers you want to pursue. Serving food at a nursing home can teach you a lot about what it’s like to work with the elderly. Filing papers in a non-profit can expose you to people trying to solve community problems.

Build transferable skills: Even if you’re not working in a field that interests you, focus on building useful skills. Many college students can earn money while building a resume that shows they have experience supervising and training other workers, handling money and ordering supplies, raising money over the telephone or providing excellent customer service. These early jobs are common on young people’s resumes. To the extent that you can move up, gain responsibility, and build your skills, these jobs are important. The more closely these skills map onto skills you need in careers that interest you, the better. Also, be sure to behave professionally so you have a strong work reference when you do apply for a more career-related job.

For more information about exploring careers and building skills, see our General Guidance on Career Planning.

Extracurricular activities

Many students are learning valuable career-related skills such as organizing, event planning, leadership, budgeting, mentoring, and communications through extracurricular activities. Use these experiences to figure out what you are good at doing. If you care passionately about an organization or a group, pick what you will spend your time doing for that group very carefully.

  • Don’t just volunteer for Thon – pick a committee that gives you experience with skills you may need in jobs – join the communications committee if you are interested in advertising, the finance committee if you are interested in management, the safety committee if you are interested in project coordination… You’re still doing Thon, and you are learning about your skills.
  • In your sorority or church group, don’t do the same thing over and over. If you like what you are doing, see if you can have more responsibility next time. If you can’t imagine using those skills for a career, see if you can do something different.

Use your extracurricular time wisely. If you are spending time on something that you don’t love or that isn’t teaching you something new, meet your current commitments but don’t take on any more. You could be doing something more interesting or useful with that time.

There are tons of clubs and activities for Penn State students. See this website for more information about ways to get involved in the department and college.

See this website for a list of student clubs at Penn State.