During my undergraduate years, I participated in two non-profit internships and three congressional internships. If you do not have a few years to shop around for an internship then my experiences may help you narrow your search.
I believe that in order to fully appreciate your time in Washington D.C. every intern should spend at least 12 weeks interning for a congressional or senate office.
A congressional or senate internship can be a great resume booster, teach you some professional skills, and help you network on the Hill. Most interns are given simple office tasks to complete. While the work usually isn't anything inspiring, the experience of living in D.C. makes up for the sometimes boring days in a government office.
For most prospective interns, there are some practical limitations. For example, in the year and a half I spent working for three different offices I did not get paid.
If I had not had school housing, I would have been out of luck. There are some programs to help students pay for the cost of living in D.C, but it is an expensive city for a student on a budget.
Non-profit internships are great starting points for careers in public policy, digital media, journalism, and many other fields. Each non-profit is different in office culture and atmosphere, but they generally operate in similar manners.
For students or recent graduates who require monetary compensation and would like an internship with a job title and specific duties, the non-profit world is often a better option. In the conservative non-profit world, there are many paid internships that provide unique benefits.
Often, these organizations hire from their own intern pool, so there is added incentive to make connections and maximize your efforts. The office environments vary, but at least you don't have to go through security every day!
Most non-profits allow and encourage interns to work on projects that have value and many organizations treat interns like a staff member.
A potential intern should really consider the kind of experience they want and set goals, always keeping in mind their practical limitations.
Reflecting on my experiences, I would encourage students or graduates who lean conservative to seriously consider non-profit internships.
Don't' worry, even while working at a non-profit, if you really want to see the Capitol building, you can visit your congressmen's office on your lunch break! One of his or her interns will give you a tour.
Derek Faraldo is the current Grassroots and International Programs intern at the Leadership Institute. He recently graduated from Georgetown and will be working with Teach for America in the fall. Learn more about the LI Intern Program here.