With career fair rolling around, it's tempting to take whatever offer comes in your direction, especially if you feel unqualified. I know when I was a freshman, I was desperate for any attention that companies would give me, so I didn't stop to think about which companies I was interviewing for. However, it's important to remember that you will be working at the company of your choice for a long amount of time. You don't want to just chase the money when making your choice. If the only offers you have are from places that don't fit your values and your vision, you might want to think before you accept them. You will have other opportunities down the line, and there is always something you can do to better your skills without compromising your values. In particular, these are the things that I, as a freshman, assumed wouldn't matter much when it came to internships:
1. Company Culture
Company culture is something that's hard to gauge just from talking to recruiters. You should take some time on your own to see what other employees who have worked at the company have to say. See if they've written blog posts about their experiences at their companies. Especially if you belong to a minority, you'll want to see how other people from your demographic were treated when working at that company. This applies to more general company culture too, though. For example, if you thrive off of collaborative programming, you don't want to work in a place where the general workflow requires a lot of individual work. It will take a little research-- maybe even an on-site interview or visit-- before you figure out if a company's environment is the right fit.
2. What the Company Does
Along those lines, make sure that the product that the company is creating aligns with your personal values. You would think that this doesn't matter, but you'll enjoy your time at the company more if you agree with their mission-- and if you think about it, it doesn't make sense to write code for something opposite of your values. You will get other offers at some point in your life (you're coming from UTCS, after all, so you're bound to be successful, and the department gives you plenty of opportunities). Don't compromise your morals just to get a job, or at least think twice before you do. It's all up to you what you're willing to put up with for the sake of experience and money, but your internship experience will probably be more pleasant if you're passionate about your company's work.
3. What You Want to Do
A lot of people want to work for one of the big name companies because they know those companies look good on a resume and pay well. However, those companies may not necessarily be a good fit for your future plans. If you're a person who likes working on multiple teams and wearing multiple hats, so to speak, then working at a small company might be better for you. If you're an innovator who's constantly coming up with new ideas and wants to stay on their toes, then startup culture might fit you better. If you aren't sure what you want to do in the future, try interning at vastly different companies to see which style fits you better. If you know you don't want to work at a big company in the future, then interning at one now may not serve your goals the best; on the other hand, if you've been dreaming about big companies since the moment you started to code, then go for it. Remember that internships, aside from occupying space on your resume, are also meant to give you valuable experience that guides your future decisions. Don't squander that opportunity just because one company offered you higher pay than the others.
Internships are meant to give you experience in the tech industry so that you can make a better decision when you're looking for a job. It's tempting to be the yes-man, always saying whatever companies want to hear so that you can increase your chances of getting hired, but that can quickly become a slippery slope. I've reached the point where I am no longer willing to change myself for other companies. There are plenty of opportunities out there, and my goal isn't to snag all of them. I just need an internship that fits my needs, and I know that there's going to be one out there for me. After all, the tech industry is growing so rapidly that new opportunities are popping up by the dozen. Be patient and wait for the right opportunity to come by, and you'll be much happier in the long run.