Freshman, Sophomore Recruiting On The Rise

The pep talk goes something like this: Congratulations! You’ve successfully survived your first year as a freshman in business school. We know you’re barely acclimated and it’s quite possible you have no clue what you want to do with your life, but here’s a list of companies to consider for your first internship. You thought you wouldn’t need an internship until junior or senior year? Guess again. Now, go, go, go!

Back in the day — as little as five years ago, according to Brenda Schuck Stover, executive director of the Center for Professional Development at Villanova School of Business — the bridge between theory and practice known as the summer internship came between junior and senior year. No longer. Now, she says, career services staff are increasingly advising undergraduate business school students to be ready to “go to work” right after their first year. 

Why so early? Because companies are recruiting talent as early as freshman and sophomore year of college. So while the old way of doing things wasn’t necessarily the “bad old days,” Stover says, the dawn of a proverbial “new day” has broken. 

Brenda Stover is director of the Center for Professional Development at the Villanova School of Business


“In the last two to three years is where we’ve seen this big push to what employers are calling ‘early identification efforts,’” Stover tells Poets&Quants for Undergrads. “From the employer’s perspective, it’s all about the race to obtain top talent. It gives them an opportunity to interact with students, identify high achievers, and pipeline them from business school to full-time roles.”

Early identification efforts, Stover says, come in a variety of forms. They range from one-to-multi-day informational or educational experiences that are sometimes called externships, to short-term internships and leadership programs, and all the way up to full-on summer internships that start at the end of sophomore year.

The common goal is to fill the pipeline with the best talent and groom and entice students to join an organization once their degree requirements have been completed.


Business schools mostly agree that the industries leading the pack in this acceleration trend are mostly banking and financial services, followed by accounting. But other industries such as consulting, marketing, consumer products, and retail are starting to follow suit.

“It’s primarily investment banks driving the train,” says Jane Hershman, senior director of the BBA Career Management Center at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. “I’ve been in this job two and a half years. In the past, I’ve seen accelerated diversity recruiting and targeting for diverse populations and underrepresented minorities, but now it’s accelerated for everything and everyone.

“The Fall of 2015 is when investment banks made the leap and started recruiting juniors for summer internships before winter break. Fall 2017, it was everyone else, too. Consulting firms, retail, marketing, all of these had historically been in Spring semester. We also see new leadership programs in corporate finance and other areas that are targeting freshmen and sophomores.”


For B-school students, the new reality can be both positive and negative. On one hand, it gives them ample time to explore industries and companies and find what best matches their interests, research that pays off when it comes time to choose an employer — and a career. (A note: This ample time for exploration is mostly the case if students are in a four-year undergraduate program. Read on to see how this trend is impacting students in two-year programs.) It also reduces the stress that’s sometimes caused by waiting until junior or senior year to do an internship, then scrambling to turn it into a full-time job or, worst yet, getting so close to graduation only to realize you’re not nearly as passionate about a company or industry as you thought. So in essence, students and employers are given time to try one another out while placing students on a two-way street with employers.

On the other hand, schools are worried students might narrow their choices rather than broaden them. “Think of a sophomore trying to make a decision and maybe haven’t even figured out their major,” says Karen Heise, interim director and employer relations manager at Washington University’s Olin Business School’s Weston Career Center. “Firms are saying, ‘You don’t need to have crystal clarity, but we want you for the summer.’”

“After a sophomore completes a summer internship, they may come out with an offer for next summer. If they accept it, this prohibits them from looking at other firms and almost closes the door to any other opportunity except for where they’ve interned.”

Villanova’s Brenda Stover also has concerns in this regard. “What I think is really, really difficult is, I don’t care how savvy they are in other ways, the human element of being an 18-year-old is they just want to say they have a job. We have an obligation to keep reminding them to be true to themselves,” Stover says. “Just because they’re being offered things — internships, externships, full-time jobs — doesn’t mean that they have to take them. If somewhere along the journey, something doesn’t feel right and they have to redirect, that’s an okay feeling.

“You have to challenge students to examine what’s important to them.”

(Story continues on Page 2. See also the newly published 4 Ways To Maximize Your Internship Experience for a primer on making the most of that all-important internship.)

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