The Ultimate Guide to Student Leadership Programs (or Pre-Internships)

The Ultimate Guide to Student Leadership Programs (or Pre-Internships) was originally published on Forage.

employees and students communicating in the workplace

You might know that internships are a key part of your early career journey and can help you land a role. But there are actually some crucial career opportunities before that: pre-internships. Pre-internships, also known as student leadership programs, are opportunities to learn more about a company, build job skills, and network — all before you even do a formal internship role. 

So, what exactly is a student leadership program, and how do you get into one? This guide will cover:

What Is a Student Leadership Program?

A student leadership program can go by many names, including pre-internship, early insight, early identification, and career discovery programs. But, regardless of the title, the program aims to show you what it’s like to work at the company and teach you some of the skills you’ll need to succeed there.

How It Works

The format of a student leadership program varies significantly from one company to another. For example, one of Bank of America’s pre-internship programs, Careers Launchpad, is a three-day event. On the other hand, Bloomberg’s discovery program is a ten-week-long summer program. Bloomberg also has another program that’s completely virtual and self-paced.

To understand the format of a specific company’s student leadership program, be sure to look on the company page and in the job description for more information.

Why Do Companies Have Student Leadership Programs?

Student leadership programs benefit companies, too, by helping them open their pipeline for future entry-level positions. Employers want to find students interested in the company and get them excited about potentially working there while training them along the way. During the program, they’re looking for students with high potential, skills, and leadership qualities.

At the end of many programs, students get early access to internship applications, move ahead in the interview process, or even interview for an internship position on the last day. 

Who Can Do a Student Leadership Program?

Student leadership programs are excellent opportunities for anyone interested in working at a specific company or industry, or students who want to figure out what kind of company and career path they’re interested in.

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However, these programs often have specific requirements for who’s eligible to apply.

For example, some pre-internships focus on diversity and inclusion, and the company encourages students from underrepresented minorities to apply. Others only accept students from specific class years, usually freshmen and sophomores. Finally, some have an area of focus, such as students in STEM. Read the application page closely to learn what requirements each company is looking for.

Why Should You Do a Student Leadership Program?

Student leadership programs are a great way to learn more about the workplace while getting ahead in the company’s recruitment pipeline. 

>>MORE: What Is a Recruiter (and How to Talk to One)?

Get a Leg up in the Application Process

If you’re interested in working for a company, doing one of these programs can move you ahead of other candidates. You’ll get more inside information on what skills you need to thrive at the company, interview tips, and sometimes even early interview opportunities for open internship positions.

Mentorship and Professional Development

These programs aim to help companies look for future leaders, which means they know you don’t have all the skills you need right now — but they want to help you build them! Companies often pair students with mentors during the program or provide professional development sessions.

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Learn More About the Company

Hear from leaders at the company about what working at the company is like.

“People were talking about their experiences, how they got to the position that they are now, and really just any advice that they could share,” says Jonathan Herrera, a student at the University of Chicago who participated in one of Bank of America’s programs. “You meet people that you wouldn’t think would be in a certain industry or would have a hard time acclimating just due to family reasons.”

Herrera was especially moved by a higher-up at the company who spoke about his experience as a working father.

“I thought that was really awesome because when you think of banking, you think of not having enough time for a family and it being very difficult for it,” Herrera said. “But he was talking about his experience and how Bank of America was very flexible with how he spent his time in the office and at home. Once you start to listen to stories like that, it really does give you a really positive perspective because you understand what the firm can do on a deeper level for you and that they actually care. You can also put yourself in their shoes and say, okay, I can actually do this, because as somebody that has similar goals that I do in life and is standing right there on the stage telling me that it is possible.”

Learn What You Like and Don’t Like

You’ll learn more about a particular industry and type of company, which is helpful when deciding what job opportunities you want to pursue.


These programs can be a great opportunity to connect with company leaders, recruiters, and even other students at the event. 

Get Interview Advice

Employers often share exclusive interview tips during these sessions to help students prepare for the internship interview process — which sometimes happens on the last day of the program.

“Getting tips from your employer on how to do those interviews is extremely valuable,” says Gabriel Thomaz Vieira, a student at Yale University who also completed Bank of America’s Career Launchpad program. “It was great to see how responsive and accessible [the employees] were.”

>>MORE: Ace the interview by learning how to answer top interview questions.

How to Get Into a Student Leadership Program

How do you successfully apply and land a spot at a pre-internship? What experiences and skills do you include if you’re early in your college career and applying so you get experience and job skills?

Don’t worry — these companies don’t expect you to have extensive professional work experience. Instead, it’s more about your potential and willingness to grow. Look closely at the program description, including what the company is looking for. Usually, there will be a section with specific skills or a “type of person” they’re looking for, whether that’s a “go-getter” or “team player.” 

>>MORE: How to Write a Resume With No Work Experience

When compiling your application materials, remember:

  • Non-professional experience counts. Extracurriculars, volunteering, and part-time work are all valuable experiences to call on to demonstrate your skills, especially leadership skills and interpersonal skills.
  • Consider your academic background: Even if you’re a freshman, you’ve likely learned hard skills in your school courses or other learning experiences like Forage job simulations, online courses, or personal projects. If these skills are relevant to the program, don’t be afraid to name them!
  • Show your ability to learn quickly: Since student leadership programs teach you about a company and professional skills, companies are looking for students who can pick things up quickly. Come prepared with examples of times you had to figure out a new tool, technology, or method and how that helped you succeed in whatever you were working on.
  • Include your GPA: Include your GPA if it’s above what the company is looking for (if they don’t share a requirement, check out our guide for when to include your GPA on your resume). 
  • Research the company: Because these programs are all about learning more about the company — and starting your career there — it’s crucial to show you’ve done your research. While you’ll learn more about the company in the program, show your unique passion and why you specifically want to complete that company’s program. 

Student Leadership Program Opportunities

From investment banking and tech to summer programs and virtual courses, top companies offer many student leadership program opportunities. Here are some examples.

Accenture Student Leadership Program

Accenture’s student leadership program is a four-month-long program starting in March and ending in June for freshmen and sophomores. The program shows you what it’s like to work as a consultant at Accenture. Students get paired with a mentor and develop soft skills and professional skills. At the end of the program, students attend a student leadership conference and get early access to apply to the company’s summer analyst program.

The program has five tracks: student athlete, women in technology, pride leadership, HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) excellence, and HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institutions) legacy.

Bank of America Careers Launchpad Diversity & Inclusion Forum

Bank of America’s Career Launchpad program is a three-day event in the spring when freshmen and sophomore students meet with company recruiters and employees in the New York office. 

The company’s “Market Makers” teams participate, including enterprise credit, global investment banking, global markets, global transactions services, and wealth management. The program is open to students from historically underrepresented backgrounds in the financial services industry. On the event’s last day, students get the chance to interview for a summer position for the following year.

>>MORE: How Can You Tell if an Employer Values Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace?

Bloomberg Discovery and Diversity Programs

Bloomberg Launch (Masterclass)

Consisting of 15 webinars in a virtual format, Bloomberg Launch is a masterclass of all things Bloomberg. The webinars teach you about financial services, Bloomberg culture, career paths, diversity and inclusion at the company, and interview best strategies from the recruiting team. After completing the program, you’ll receive a certificate and are guaranteed a phone interview if you’re eligible for any open roles.

Discover Bloomberg

Bloomberg offers various Discover Bloomberg events that help students learn more about the company’s culture, mission, impact, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and what it’s like to work in specific Bloomberg roles. Typically, these events are one to three days long and occur at a Bloomberg office. Undergraduate students who identify as Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native, and/or are first-generation college students are encouraged to apply. Discover Bloomberg programs cover various business areas, including finance and business, analytics and sales, and data.

Business Externships

Bloomberg offers externships for sophomores in analytics and sales, data, and financial research data. Students learn more about the company and specific departments during the externship and get professional development training. On the last day of the program, students interview for a summer internship role for the following year. This ten-week summer program is open to sophomores who identify as Black, African-American, Hispanic, Latinx, Native, Indigenous, and/or are first-generation college students.

>>MORE: What Is an Externship (and How to Get One)?

Citi Early Insight Programs

Citi offers early insight programs for students of various class years, universities, and identity groups.

Freshman Discovery Day

This is a two-day program aimed toward freshmen of diverse backgrounds. In the program, you’ll learn more about Citi’s different programs and company culture.

HBCU Symposium

Citi hosts another two-day program for freshmen and sophomores attending HBCUs. This program is aimed at helping students start career planning, specifically by educating them about financial services and helping them gain technical skills.

Early ID Leadership

This five-week program is held virtually and focuses on mentorship. Citi pairs each student with a mentor, giving them access to virtual training, panels, and seminars. After the program, students are eligible for an expedited interview process for the following year’s summer analyst internship.

Sophomore Leadership Program

This early insight program is a 10-week summer internship for sophomores, including training and mentorship. Interns learn about different business areas within the company’s Institutional Clients Group.

Deloitte Insight Programs

Discovery Internship

Deloitte’s Discovery Internship is a summer program for freshmen and sophomores interested in learning about client service businesses at the company. During the program, students receive various learning and networking opportunities focusing on mentorship. In addition, sophomores who participate in the program may receive a client service internship at the end of the program.

HBCU Emerging Leaders Scholarship Program

The HBCU Emerging Leaders Scholarship Program at Deloitte is for students at HBCUs interested in business, accounting, technology, analytics, or STEM-related fields. Students will learn about the professional services industry and network with Deloitte employees across the business. Eligible participants compete at Deloitte University (the company’s learning center) or virtually for a $10,000 scholarship.

GE Aerospace Diversity Summit

GE’s Aerospace Diversity Summit is a three-day program to help students learn more about the company’s finance, engineering, supply chain/manufacturing, human resources, and digital technology internships. During the program, students gain professional skills development and have the opportunity to network with GE employees. On the event’s last day, students can interview for summer positions for the following year.

Goldman Sachs Insight Series

The Goldman Sachs Insight Series is a four-week virtual program that students can completely customize to their grade level. The program offers modules that help students discover their interests, the firm, and their potential career journey at Goldman Sachs.

JPMorgan Early Identification Programs

Winning Women

The JPMorgan Winning Women program is for undergraduate women leaders. The program provides an overview of financial services at the company and opportunities for female leadership.

Advancing Hispanics & Latinos Fellowship Program

JPMorgan’s Advancing Hispanics & Latinos Fellowship Program is a paid six-week, full-time summer fellowship with in-person work at JPMorgan’s offices. Students will learn critical job skills like teamwork and problem-solving while learning more about financial services. Sophomore students, including, without limitation, Hispanic and Latino students, are encouraged to apply. 

Advancing Black Pathways Fellowship Program

Like the program above, JPMorgan’s Advancing Black Pathways Fellowship Program is a paid six-week, full-time summer fellowship offering work experience in JPMorgan’s offices. Students learn professional development skills and more about the financial services industry. Sophomore students, including, without limitation, Black students, are encouraged to apply. 

Private Bank Challenge

The Private Bank Challenge is a two-part competition where students work on a hypothetical case study. During the competition, they’ll learn how the global private bank business works, gain professional skills and have access to senior leaders. Students will work in teams of four on both written submissions and virtual presentations with a first and second round. Finalists then move to compete in a final competition.

Social Good Hackathons

Interested in a competition-style early identification program but not necessarily in finance? In JPMorgan’s Social Good Hackathons, you’ll build prototypes to help social good organizations. These hackathons are held in person and virtually. Students work alongside JPMorgan employees.

Student Leadership Programs: The Bottom Line

Student leadership programs — pre-internships, early identification programs, insight programs, or discovery programs — are a great way to learn about what it’s like to work at a company while getting ahead in the application process. 

Herrera summarizes it best:

“It’s so nice to be able to really understand what life [at a company] is like and what you can actually do versus just reading it on a company website.”

Build the skills you need to apply and succeed at a student leadership program with Forage free job simulations.

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