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Jobs without borders: what international undergraduates need to know to land campus jobs, internships, research opportunities

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International students face more barriers than just crossing overseas boundaries. Without U.S. citizenship, it can be hard to find the opportunities they need to gain work experience, build their resumes and, let’s be honest, beef up that LinkedIn profile. Winter Quarter is fast approaching – which means not only are more on-campus jobs available, but it’s time to lock in internship and research opportunities for next summer. Luckily, NBN has compiled everything you need to know to do this successfully:

Finding on-campus jobs

This Fall, Northwestern published a centralized job posting board. International students, even if they receive financial aid from the University, are not eligible for federally funded work-study jobs. So, toggle the “Federal Work-Study” filter on the top left that says, “All students can apply.” Browse through the available positions, taking note of the column “Approximate Start Date” and how it aligns with your schedule. Click on the one you are interested in and apply.

Fourth-year Gabriella Nyambura from Kenya found her current event planning job at Norris University Center through the website.

“Having a resource that just compiles everything for you, instead of having to go website to website, is super helpful,” she said. “There are certain offices you know exist, but it doesn’t occur to you to check if they actually hire students.”

Before the board launched, Nyambura found two on-campus jobs – first as a student caller soliciting alumni donations and then as a package center attendant. She needed to “scour” the internet to find them, she said.

The three major employers of international students are Norris, Northwestern Libraries and Northwestern Athletics, said Mark Presnell, executive director of the Northwestern Career Advancement Center.

“Typically bigger offices often translate into being more flexible on work-study versus non-work-study roles,” Presnell said.

The Writing Place accepts applications in Spring Quarter for incoming third- and fourth-year students, regardless of work-study status. Fourth-year Pari Pradhan from the Philippines has been a writing tutor and consultant since her third year and praised the office for their patience.

“They were very helpful when it came to getting my documents in order and provided guidance for the daunting process of applying for my Social Security number,” she said.

Finding internships

Students often find internships on professional platforms LinkedIn and Handshake. LinkedIn is a general professional networking platform that allows its users to connect with each other and follow companies of interest. Medill ‘23 Antonia Mufarech is a graduate of Medill’s accelerated master’s program from Peru, who has landed internships with companies like CNN and Smithsonian. She suggests connecting on LinkedIn with alumni recruiters, particularly those who attended Northwestern, as they often post about available internships.

Handshake is a specialized platform tailored for students and recent graduates seeking entry-level opportunities. Use Handshake for tailored job recommendations by specifying preferences like location, industry and job type.

“I prefer [Handshake] because it is made specifically for college students– the filters make it so easy to navigate,” Weinberg first-year Sarah Norman from the Philippines said. “The app also categorizes applications for employers by the university you attend, which helps increase your visibility because Northwestern has so much name recognition.”

But not all internships are open to international students. F-1 (Academic Student) visa holders can only work for one year after graduation – except STEM students, who can work for three (in 2020, Northwestern’s Office of the Registrar decided that Medill degrees receive STEM designation). Beyond this period, work visa sponsorship is required, but not all companies support this long-term. Presnell said similar limitations apply to internships, because it’s easier to hire – and rehire – U.S. citizens. He explained that corporations often hire interns in their junior and senior years and then extend full-time job offers. Interning for companies open to long-term sponsorship boosts competitiveness and presents extended opportunities: Mufarech secured a second internship at CNN due to relationships built during her first.

Check the LinkedIn and Handshake job posting for information. Use Handshake’s “Work authorization” filter on the top right to narrow down results to jobs eligible for U.S. visa sponsorship.

Screenshot of work authorization filters available on Handshake.

Use LinkedIn’s job search feature with keywords like “Equal Opportunity Employer” and “EEO statement” to find internships explicitly open to hiring international students. Look for these terms in job descriptions because companies committed to non-discrimination will include them. For example, NBCUniversal states on its  2024 internship listing that its “policy is to provide equal employment opportunities to all applicants and employees without regard to race, color, religion, creed, gender, gender identity or expression, age, national origin or ancestry.”

Check out Northwestern’s post-graduation data to see where international graduates have gone on to work. Data for the class of 2022 is now available online. Toggle the “Population” filter on the top left and click on “International Grads Only.” You can also filter the results by school, major, minor and certificate for further personalization. Presnell recommends scrolling through the list of companies the graduates work for to identify which ones tend to sponsor. Boston Consulting Group, Facebook and Google are just a few.

Screenshot of Northwestern class of 2022 post-graduation data.

Yet some companies just say “no” to hiring international students. Here’s the LinkedIn wording for Warner Bros.: “Warner Bros. Discovery will only consider candidates who are presently authorized to work for any employer in the United States and who will not require work visa sponsorship from Warner Bros. Discovery now or in the future in order to retain their authorization to work in the United States.” Similarly, the consulting firm Deloitte says its Deloitte Summer Strategy Scholar application for 2024 does not accept applicants who are looking for sponsorship in the future.

Still, Presnell said some small to mid-size companies simply haven’t had the opportunity to sponsor a student. Even if you’re unsure, it’s important to reach out and express interest anyway. The key is advertising yourself effectively to make them see your value to their team, Presnell said.

“Employers might ask themselves, ‘Why would I hire you if it’s so much extra paperwork?’” Mufarech said. “So it’s really important to tell them you have specific skills most people don’t.”

In her own internship application to the Smithsonian, Mufarech stressed her ability to speak Spanish with native proficiency and her experience growing up in Lima. She emphasized the importance of perseverance.

“If you really want to make it work, it’ll work, but unfortunately you have to work extra hard,” she said.

Finding paid research opportunities

Research Assistant

The Undergraduate Research Assistant Program, created by the Office of Undergraduate Research, connects students interested in conducting research with professors. Every year in October, the office publishes a website with available research assistant positions, both lab and non-lab. Browse through and click the “plus” icon next to the title description to read more about the specific position.

Screenshot of Office of Undergraduate Research available research positions website.

To be a research assistant, students must live on U.S. soil for the duration of the academic year in which they are hired – a challenge, as noted by Pradhan. Norman applied to four positions.

“The experience you can gain by shadowing a professor is invaluable – I can wait to go home,” Norman said.  

So plan ahead. Not only is there only a one-month window between website release and the Nov. 19 application deadline, but you must also ensure availability during Winter and Spring Quarters, which includes not returning home and/or not studying abroad.

Research Grant

All students are eligible to receive a Summer Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG), which includes a $4,000 stipend to support living expenses during eight weeks of full-time research on an independent academic or creative project in any field of study.  This research is conducted under the guidance and supervision of faculty members and doesn’t require any previous experience. Proposals are due on March 8, 2024, for the summer.

The flexibility of the grant is appealing to international students. Unlike research assistant positions, SURG projects can be conducted outside the U.S. – if you travel internationally, you can request an additional allowance of up to 50 percent of your airfare. The stipend given is also an award rather than wage, so you do not need to apply for a Social Security number.

Mufarech received $4,000 over the summer of her second year to make her own Spotify meditation podcast, “Meditationable.” Under the supervision of Medill professor Karen Springen, she talked to experts in psychology and mindfulness to make meditation more approachable for young adults. She recommended scheduling a meeting with the Office of Undergraduate Research when making a research proposal.

As of this Fall, representatives of the office are available for individual advising meetings via ConnectNU. Simply login to ConnectNU with your CAESAR account. Under “your services,” click on the Undergraduate Research Office, then schedule an appointment with one of the five team members.

Peter Civetta, the founding director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, encouraged students to book an appointment as soon as possible – preferably in the end of Fall quarter, so the idea can be workshopped throughout Winter. Anyone can schedule a meeting, as long as they are interested.

“We work on the assumption that students don’t know how to write research grant proposals, because, why would they?” he said.

All students have to do, he said, is “tell us the things that they’re interested in, and why they’re interested in them, and then we help guide them through the process of creating a research question.”

Thumbnail graphic by Iliana Garner / North by Northwestern

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