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Career Planning: Certificate Programs vs. Summer Internships

May 16, 2023
Cherrie Wilkerson weighs different summer options for students looking to make the most out of their summer for career planning

By Eigen Escario

Cherrie Wilkerson

While some certificate programs give enough time for undergraduate students to participate in other internships and job opportunities over the summer, there might be situations where students need to choose one or the other. Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean of Young Professionals Programs at Owen, discusses different considerations to make the best choice for students’ career planning.

“There are some professions that hire from their internship class, so by all means, take the internship,” Wilkerson said. “For example, if you want to get into investment banking consulting and get an offer from the bulge bracket banks like JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs, take it.”

However, for those who are unsure about what particular area of business they want to pursue or have a resume that is not focused on one specific field, Wilkerson says certificate programs like Vanderbilt’s Accelerator® Summer Business Immersion are excellent catalysts for career planning and goal setting. Accelerator is a 3-week certificate program that offers a cohort of students the opportunity to hone their professional skills and determine the best path for their future careers.

“We had a rising sophomore in the Accelerator program last year who was dead set on investment banking, and the more he networked and talked to people, the more he realized he didn’t want to do that,” Wilkerson said. “We taught him the skills to network and figure that out, which was great. Think twice about that internship, and don’t go into a field you’re not interested in.”

Along with this advice, Wilkerson highlights the enriching advantages that students gain in the Accelerator program, including personalized mentorship and applied consulting practice that students will be able to talk about in their interviews for future internships and jobs.

Accelerator students in class

Accelerator students take charge of their career planning through summer enrichment.

“Accelerator features 3 real projects for clients—students work all week with their faculty leaders and coaches to develop a plan in groups and present it to the client at the end of the week,” Wilkerson explained. “Having broader bases to work on will help students have a meaningful project that they have the most ownership of and can show demonstrable results at the end.”

In addition to the program’s 3 weeks of intensive learning, there is a competition that awards one winning team for each project to incentivize the best actionable plans within the cost and design parameters presented by the clients. Students also benefit from opportunities for collaboration and career coaching through the Accelerator network.

“Students get direct feedback from the clients who are going to implement and use these ideas,” Wilkerson said. “We’ll also have 4 industry panels that students can rotate among and listen to the stories of people who are in professions they might be interested in, as well as different programming with the Career Management Center team that polishes resumes, conducts mock interviews, and offers one-on-one counseling sessions.”

Wilkerson concludes by posing a question for those considering this program among other internship options over the summer.

“I’m not anti-internship by any means. In fact, there’s time for internships after Accelerator,” Wilkerson said. “Each student has to look at their list of career options for the summer and ask: is this going to help move me toward my goals faster than this other option?”

Overall, Wilkerson believes that the Accelerator program would be a great opportunity for any young professional seeking to lay good foundations for planning a career in business.

“Prospective applicants should keep in mind that not every certificate program has real clients. Not every program has a deliverable that the client gives feedback on. Not every program interweaves all the consulting projects with the coursework, as well as the consulting help from our staff and faculty who stay with the students the whole time.”

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