After spending what time I have here in Washington, I would highly recommend to any students interested in government or politics to give the experience a try. Getting an internship isn’t as scary as it seems, and being part of the action will teach you things you just can’t get in Champaign.
The biggest tip I have for getting an internship is to make a point of tailoring your cover letters and applications to the position you are applying for. In many offices, part of the initial sorting of applications is determining if the cover letter is actually related to the position/workplace. When applying, try to find some way to explain why you are interested in the position with an example from your own life – maybe, for example, you performed really well in a related class, or you read a book about the field and enjoyed it – any personal example will help get your application looked at.
Another important thing to remember when applying to any internship is to do your research and ensure that your politics or ideas are mostly in line with those of your workplace. Lots of workplaces in Washington will be partisan, and almost all will have some share of politically interested people, so make sure you will be comfortable in any office you could be working in. That said – don’t let that be an obstacle if you’re really interested in the work you would be doing.
At your internship, I think it is important to establish that you are willing to do things early. That sounds silly – why would they have an intern if they didn’t want them to do things – but workplaces function without interns, and sometimes if you ask you can end up spending more of your day working on things you are interested in, rather than sitting around. This can be as simple as asking one of your coworkers if they have anything extra on their plate they could pass off to you. It makes you look better and more capable, and only requires a little bit of initiative.
Other than that, just remember to work hard and be kind. You’re only in your office for a little while, but it can’t hurt to make friends! Your internship – especially coming from Illinois out East – is a chance to build a foothold of people you know out here. Be a good part of their office while you’re there!
Outside of work, remember to be take as many chances as you can to explore the stuff you can only see in D.C. Go to memorials, walk around the mall, try to see every Smithsonian you can. It’s only out here, so see it while you can. It’s amazing how accessible things can be; nearly all of the museums are free. So remember to get outside and walk around.
Illinois in Washington is great for connecting you with a big group of other U of I students out in D.C., but even if you don’t do the program, reach out and connect with the U of I students in Washington when you are! It’s really nice to be able to hang out with people you have something in common with. Remember, just because you’re working doesn’t mean your summer shouldn’t be fun!