Political internships can be hugely rewarding for all majors in the social sciences. Interns in political offices not only learn a lot about the political and governmental processes, they can also potentially get a letter of recommendation or a reference that can be very valuable for the job search, or for a graduate school application school.
Semester-Long Internships in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Center (TWC) offers semester-long internship programs for students in Washington, D.C. The internships can be in different aspects of national politics, government affairs, political journalism, criminal justice, law, and international affairs. Students get internship credit for their Practicum, as well as elective credit. There are generous scholarships for students from Pennsylvania.
- For a spring semester experience in Washington, D.C., the application deadline is early October. Talk to your academic advisor and Dr. Moretti around registration time during the prior spring semester.
- For a fall semester experience in Washington, D.C., the application deadline is early May. Talk to your academic advisor and Dr. Moretti around registration time during the prior fall semester.
Opportunities in State and Local Politics and Government
The Local Government Academy is a great resource for working and interning in local government. In particular, their Municipal Internship Program is excellent.
Things to Consider in a Political Internship
- Ask to shadow for a day. If you’re interested in interning in an office, it might be a good idea to ask if you could shadow a member of the office for a day, to get a sense if you would like to work there.
- Be persistent. There are plenty of political internship opportunities. Be persistent! Particularly in election years, there is a great demand for volunteers on campaigns. For higher-level political internships, e.g. in a congressional office, it is recommended to have an institutional endorsement – contact your academic advisor if you are interested.
- Prepare for interviews. When interviewing for an internship, preparation is critical. Do your research. Have a good understanding of the office and what it does, and come prepared to ask informed questions. The more knowledge you have about what you’re applying for, the better your interview will go.
- Local internships. Internships in Washington DC are different than internships locally. Internships in Washington DC can be very professionalized – for instance, having an internship coordinator who is responsible for all the interns in an office. Local internships, on the other hand, are in offices that do not have internship coordinators, so the students in these positions need to be self-starters, not waiting for responsibilities to come their way. In these internships, try to learn to be part of the office, helping pick up the slack for the staff, which means taking the initiative and not just doing what you’re told. While it is important not overstep, it is really good to find ways you can help the staff; they want to listen to your ideas, so don’t hesitate to share them.
- Type of work. In internships with elected officials, interns often help members of the public through constituency service and helping to craft responses to citizens who contact the office about specific issues. Constituency service is particularly common for interns, and this is work that can be very rewarding, as well as teaching how political and administrative processes operate.
- Necessary skills. Research skills are important for interns in political offices, for example being able to look up relevant bills, municipal codes, or scholarly sources on an issue. Additionally, it is an important skill to be able to put together a well-crafted one-page briefing memo. The best writing in a political context is terse and concise, “easy enough for a kindergartner to understand,” in the words of one experienced political staffer.
- Flexibility. Students in political internships need to be flexible and have a wide range of interest. There are many different tasks that interns could be responsible for: data, phone solicitations, interacting with the public, or campaigning. People who work in political offices have to deal with a lot of things, e.g. people who call hate the Representative. Internships are not comfortable; in fact, they are supposed to be uncomfortable, as interns can be thrown into a lot of situations. Working in a political office is the real world – the staff has a million things to do, and interns need to have a personality; they sink or swim on their own, and have to learn to adapt and overcome obstacles.
- Discretion. Political internships often deal with matters that need to remain confidential. It is extremely important not to talk about matters internal to the office outside the office, both during the internship experience and afterward.
- Learn from your mistakes. Everybody understands that interns will make mistakes. What is important is to learn from your mistakes, and try not to make the same mistake twice.