Marcomm Intern Management 101

Build a higher ed marcomm program that attracts and retains top student talent by implementing these five tactics.

4 minutes
By: Alicia Auhagen

As higher ed marcomm teams are increasingly stretched for resources and full-time talent, student workers are making huge contributions to university marketing and communication (UMC) teams. There’s never been a better time to invest in your intern program.

In the decade I worked in-house for Miami University Communications and Marketing, I came full circle from student intern to intern program manager. I’ve mentored dozens of students over the years, many of whom went on to employers such as JP Morgan, Grainger and Audible after graduating. 

Here are my tried and tested strategies for building a UCM internship program that attracts and retains top student talent.

1. Develop Relationships with Faculty

Faculty in departments like English, journalism, communication design and marketing make great recruiting partners. Connecting with faculty in programs that relate to the functions of your UCM intern positions amplifies your opportunity to some of the strongest students in each major. 

Reach out to faculty via email with a link to your open intern position, but offer to have a phone conversation or stop by their offices to chat about the learning outcomes for students who work in the university marcom office. 

2. Student-ify the Application Process

Students who apply for your UCM internship are likely coming in with little professional experience. Your internship might even be the first time they’ve applied for a job. But that doesn’t mean you can’t identify students with potential and the desire to grow. 

For creative intern positions like content and design, ask students to send a few samples with their applications. Although they may be class assignments or hobby projects, these samples will quickly help you establish the students’ grasp of fundamentals and creativity.

Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask students in interviews and what their answers can reveal about how they might contribute to your UCM team.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on and what your role was in making it a success: How well do they collaborate with others? Do they take initiative?
  • Give an example of how you applied previous coursework in another class: Can they bridge ideas across disciplines? Do they think creatively? 
  • Tell me about a time when you received tough feedback: How receptive will they be to feedback in this role? Do they want to grow? How resilient are they?
  • Describe your extracurriculars and why those experiences are meaningful to you: What motivates them? What are they passionate about? Do they take pride in what they do? 

3. Conduct Thorough UCM Onboarding

The basics

Covering the basics like how to keep track of hours, your university’s pay schedule and software setup might not be the most exciting part of the internship, but your student workers’ success depends on a solid grasp of these fundamentals. Leave adequate time to ensure your intern is confident clocking in and out and understands how they’ll be paid to put them at ease.

Team introductions

Don’t just escort your intern to their workstation — take them around the office to meet each UCM team member. If your UCM department is large, this might take a while, but it goes a long way to making your interns feel welcome and part of the team. 

Communication expectations

Set expectations for communication upfront. What platform should they use to get a hold of you and when? How often do you want them to check in? Whatever you prefer, make sure your interns know how to communicate with you from day one.

Goal setting

One of the first things to have your student workers do is document their goals for the internship. Ideally, this will be in a shared document like a Google Doc that you can both access and refer to regularly. You can save time by creating a standard goal setting template for students to put the skills they want to develop and the outcomes they want to achieve.

Brand onboarding

Before assigning a project, introduce your interns to your university’s brand. At the least, this should include access to your brand and editorial guidelines but ideally should involve a brand training session. There’s often a great deal of nuance and unspoken considerations when communicating about your university that isn’t always conveyed in brand guides, so introducing your student workers to your brand, content and social media teams is an important part of onboarding them to your brand.

Standard goal setting template for marcomm interns
Goal setting template for student interns

4. Create Intentional Cross-departmental Learning Opportunities 

As mentors, it’s our job to create learning opportunities for our interns so that they can only get on the job. When we create opportunities for interns to learn about all the functions of a higher ed marketing unit, we not only help them become better professionals, but stronger performers on our team or any team they might join in the future. 

One easy way to introduce student workers to other UCM functions is to set up one-hour learning sessions with each team. Every session doesn’t need to have the same format, but should cover things like:

  • How do the functions of this team impact other teams in the mar-com department? What does working together look like?
  • What are some key terms and ideas that are important to know in this area?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of this field? 
  • What are some opportunities for interns to get involved in a project with this team? 

When I organized these sessions for UCM student workers at Miami University, some teams liked to put together a presentation while others preferred to bring project samples and have a casual conversation. The most important thing for students is that they’re making connections with staff members and beginning to see how all the pieces of a higher ed mar-com office fit together. 

5. Set a Regular Cadence for Check-ins

You’ll likely meet with your interns regularly to discuss their progress on specific projects, but it’s equally important to make time to connect with them on a deeper level. Depending on your and your student worker’s preferences, this might take the shape of a monthly or biweekly 1:1. 

This is a great time to check in with them about their progress toward the goals they set at the beginning of the internship. Give them space to talk about how their semester is going and what’s coming up in their lives. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can better support them and if there’s anything you’re not doing as a mentor that they’d like you to start doing. 

These tips can help you build a UCM internship program that is not only rewarding for you as a mentor but also truly impactful in your higher ed marcomm department. 

Alicia Auhagen

Alicia Auhagen


Alicia Auhagen is a freelance content strategist and copywriter for higher ed, nonprofits and marketing agencies. She founded her business in 2022 after 10 years as an in-house higher ed marketer, where she led messaging strategy for award-winning campaigns, developed talented teams of student workers and championed cultural change.

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