Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Outside the Classroom

What can you do beyond your studies to learn about business and strengthen your skills portfolio? Firms and business schools like proven leaders who are involved in things they care about and who have had meaningful work experience. You should take a look at our pages about how research, internships (including for-credit and not-for-credit options), and volunteering can strengthen your academic and professional goals. Here, you’ll also find information about extracurricular activities, leadership, and internships specifically geared toward pre-business students.

Leadership and extracurricular activities

Your extracurricular activities give potential employers some notion of your personality and interests. When it comes to choosing activities, however, quality outweighs quantity. A deep commitment in a significant role with just a few groups—or even one group—is more impressive than a long list of shallow participation.

Humanitarian, environmental, athletic, artistic, not-for-profit, political, philanthropic, and business-related groups all provide opportunities for you to show your personal and academic passions while learning and developing professional skills. Within Northwestern and across the Chicago area there are organizations that can match almost any possible interest, and if you can’t find a group that satisfies yours, consider starting it! The best companies look for employees who can do more than apply formulas and methods; they want leaders who show initiative, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Within any group, it’s good to show that you can be part of an effective team and that you can tackle a project or initiative of your own. Organizing an annual event, starting a speakers series, creating a publication, beginning a new form of fund raising, devising a new product or service, or reaching out to help a previously ignored needy group are all examples of the myriad ways that extracurricular projects can translate into valued professional assets.

The options are seemingly endless. To learn about various student groups, consult the information provided by the Associated Student Government, the Center for Student Involvement, and the directory of student groups.


The importance of professional experience cannot be stressed enough when it comes to applying for a job. An internship (any work experience, paid or unpaid, in which you both learn about a profession or field and do the tasks required) demonstrates to future employers that you have learned about business culture and working reliably within an organization. Internships also give you a way to practice interviewing and casting your prior experience in a way that highlights your professionalism. They let you learn about different sorts of businesses and show potential employers that you understand their field. They are also a way to find out first-hand what careers do and don’t interest you, as well as to get your foot in the door for a post-graduation career.

The traditional time to do an internship is the summer following junior year. Increasingly, however, students seek internships in earlier summers, even following freshman year. It can be a good idea to start interning early in your college career; you’ll have greater opportunity to try different fields and accumulate diverse experiences. (Plus each internship you have will help you get the next one.)

But this can mean juggling some other plans too, such as study abroad, summer coursework, research, or paid employment. Indeed, for some students, an unpaid internship is simply not an option because of financial need. But never fear:  there is no one-size-fits-all choice!  Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) and your College Adviser can help you think about what makes the most sense for you.

While most Weinberg students do non-credit internships, there are some for-credit options to investigate as well. Chicago Field Studies offers undergraduates the chance to take their learning outside the classroom and into the professional setting.  Now the largest academic internship program on campus, CFS serves over 280 students a year from all schools and majors.  Students intern in a range of professional and civic fields, from nonprofit and community organizations to business and law.  The Business Field Studies program serves roughly 100 students per year. While interning, students take a Chicago Field Studies course on the Evanston campus that connects seminar readings and discussions with the internship’s work, organizational culture, and current business issues.

How do you find an internship? Northwestern Career Advancement offers internship advising that can help you prepare your résumé and target your search. The Alumni Center runs an “externship” program that gives students an opportunity to shadow an NU alumnus; this can be a chance to learn about a field and to make some contacts. You may also want to talk to people you know in your fields of interest; these resources can help you make contacts, learn about professions, and even find a company seeking an intern. Finally, if there’s a company out there doing something you find interesting, contact them directly.

Back to top