We all have those one or two top level organizations where we dream of working. We may even be lucky enough to get to work for them from day one. Sometimes, though, it's better to take an opportunity in a smaller or start-up or off-the-beaten-path organization. Why, though? Often, these other types of organizations can offer more hands-on experience in a lot of different areas than a large one can. Established companies often have long established policies and procedures. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. You can learn about a specific area in an established company, but in a small or developing one, you can learn about MANY different areas and help create the policies and procedures. It also allows you to have an impact on what happens in a bigger way. When you go to apply for your next job, you can give concrete examples to hiring managers of the impact you had on the organization.
I was in the second intern class at Disney's Wide World of Sports. The first class had three people who started working the year before the Sports Complex even opened. They worked 100+ hour weeks on a regular basis to help get it open. There were ten of us in the second intern class and only a handful of permanent staff compared to what Disney Sports has now. Our class got there about six weeks after they opened and just before the summer deluge of events. We all worked on all kinds of events and in a lot of different functional areas. It was the best internship possible and one where we were able to learn a great deal about a lot of different areas. We got to sit in on meetings and manage areas that I'm sure their interns today don't. The Disney Sports internship is still one of the top ones out there, but with 30+ interns and a boatload more specialized staff, the interns don't get quite the same experience we did. It was chaos and we had an opportunity that doesn't come along often with an organization like Disney.
When you're looking for your first job or an internship, take a look at some of those smaller university jobs if you want to work at a BCS school in the future...or if you want to work for an NBA team, look at a team in the NBA Development League...You get the idea. Search for your internship or job based on the experience you're going to get from it.