What exactly is an internship? (And do I want one?)

Internships are career-based learning experiences that involve a “real world” work environment and standard workplace expectations. They are related to, but different from, volunteering and an actual job. Volunteering is valuable but may not be career-related. A job may limit the experiences to only those job tasks assigned.

An Internship is:

  • Relatively short term – may be anywhere between a few weeks to a semester.
  • Paid or unpaid – internships are often unpaid due to the limited time-frame involved, the reduced expectations due to the increased learning opportunities, and the nature and type of business. Experience gained from an internship can outweigh the lack of pay. An internship is a career investment.
  • Variable in schedule – interns are enrolled students, so the schedule varies based on the intern’s availability.
  • Frequently project-based – internships often focus on a specific project and may involve a class assignment (paper, presentation, completion of a class project).
  • Career-specific and related to the student’s program of study and/or career interests.
  • Adjustable in expectations – compared to a “regular employee,” expectations for an intern may be adjusted based on course-work the student has completed and the student’s learning objectives for the internship.

Internships are not:

  • Provided at the expense of or in place of a regular or potential employee.
  • Equivalent to a part-time job because part-time job learning is generally limited to specific tasks you perform and may not relate to your program of study or career goals.
  • A “break” from class because you are expected to put your best effort into an internship in order to get as much as possible out of the experience.
  • The “dumping ground” for tasks not wanted by others. Internships provide challenging experiences that enable you to apply what you’ve learned in your courses and add to that knowledge through experience.