Why Interning Before College Prepared Me For My Interior Design Career

Being an eighteen-year-old intern is uncommon, but being an intern at the age of eighteen with no prior experience is rare.  Many people and companies would not take the risk of taking someone so young and inexperienced under their wing.

My name is Barbara Wright, but people call me Bobbie. I graduated high school as salutatorian last year, and was prepared to go to college in South Carolina. My hopes were high, and my dreams were set. However, upon attending freshman orientation, I realized the school I wanted to attend was not the right fit. I came home confused, scared, and dumb-founded. Where was I supposed to go from here?

Commuting wasn’t an option due to car trouble. A gap year was not an acceptable option to me, as I would miss being proactive. I decided to take online classes to get my general education courses out of the way. As an extrovert, I quickly learned that taking online classes was not the most thrilling experience for me. In addition to these challenges, I felt judged. Many people looked at me and wondered how someone with a history of academic success would end up where I was. I wanted to transfer after my first semester, but the colleges I wanted to transfer to did not allow me to transfer mid-year. Door after door was being shut in my face, and it was difficult to stay positive in the light of negative circumstances.

It’s easy to focus on the big doors being shut and block out the smaller doors being opened. It’s easy to lose hope and optimism in the face of challenges. However, I learned that you can’t have this attitude. If I disregarded the smaller doors, I would not be where I am today.

If I disregarded the smaller doors, I would not be where I am today.

A small door opened when I was able to connect with Matthew Wittmer, the Principal at Phase Zero Design, through my headmaster from my old high school. The meeting’s intent was only for me to catch a glimpse of what an interior designer does on a day-to-day basis, and gain knowledge from an industry professional.  I came prepared to ask Matt questions and to leave with answers. Little did I know, a much bigger door was going to be opened before I left the meeting. Before leaving, Matt offered me an internship. Honestly, I was awe-struck. He had full knowledge I had no experience; yet, he decided to open the door. At first, I questioned whether he was being serious. I had truthfully gotten used to a lot of doors being closed in my life, and having this significant door open was incredibly unexpected.

An opportunity like this does not come up every day. Upon confirming I was going to intern, I was excited and thankful. However, I’m not going to deny that I was nervous. To prepare for the internship, I took an Auto-CAD class and researched on my own. Matt knew I had no prior experience, but what would the other employees think?

So my first day rolled around, and I felt awfully nervous walking into the office. Fears bubbled up inside of me. How was I supposed to help with little experience? Some of these doubts and fears were legitimate, but they were all unnecessary.

Real experience is irreplaceable.

I have been an intern for over a month now, and have learned more than I would have imagined. My journey as an eighteen year old is untraditional. It is not the “expected” path most people place upon high-school graduates. In fact, my journey is jumbled. I took my general education courses first, my internship second, and will then take my proceeding years of college. Following this unordinary path is preparing me with more knowledge. Real experience is irreplaceable, and mainly everything I am learning is new. Experience expands your knowledge. It allows you to apply new information immediately. In addition to these benefits, I can watch how my co-workers interact with customers and vendors, giving me real examples of the difficulties architects and interior designers face in their daily work.

My experience as an intern allows me to attend college with a realistic expectation of what an interior design career looks like. In college, I can connect what I’m learning to what I actually did during my internship. In a way, I am ahead of the game, and the only reason I am is because a firm took a chance and I stepped through an open door. 

Did you have an internship before college?  Share your experience and thoughts on interning before college in the comments!