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What You Need to Know About College Internships


Internships have been around since pre-World War I, stemming from the medical community. It was a term used to describe a doctor who didn’t have his or her license to practice.

Nowadays, internships are an important piece of your college education, aimed at helping you in your job search after graduation.

What Are Internships?

Employers make internships available to help students gain experience in different industries.

Generally, your internship will last a few months, and you’ll be expected to come into the office several times per week or month, depending on your agreement.

Internships aren’t usually season-specific, meaning you won’t necessarily have to wait until the summer to do one.

They can be paid or unpaid, and will give you a sampling of what to expect once you graduate.

Internships are not meant to be used to replace a “regular” employee, so beware of any company that is using its interns in that regard. The focus of an internship should be to refine your professional skills and prepare you for your chosen career ahead.

What Makes a Great Internship?

Not all internships can be considered great, or even good. There are some defining factors that will take an internship to outstanding heights.

A great internship will:

  • Have a well-defined intern role for you to step into
  • Provide onboarding
  • Provide you with a wealth of knowledge and skills to get ahead in your chosen career
  • Pair you with a mentor who will take you under his or her wing and teach you everything he or she knows
  • Give you plenty of networking opportunities, which can come in handy when you graduate and are in the market for a job
  • Include you in the perks of employment, such as salary, benefits, and more—the golden ticket of internships
  • Offer flexibility around your school schedule
  • Keep you busy and engaged in long-term projects
  • Provide consistent feedback regarding how you’re doing, provide help in areas you’re struggling, and commend you in the areas you are excelling
  • Remain compliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act by limiting your unpaid internship to 12-15 hours per week
  • Have an exit interview after you’ve completed your internship so that the position is even better for the next intern

Are Internships Only for College Students?

Most commonly, internships are for juniors and seniors in college. However, it’s not unheard of for underclassmen to have an internship. Also, some high schools, such as early colleges, expect students to gain internship experience.

Getting an internship in high school can help you to determine your career path; you will have a better idea of what you want to major in once you’re in college. Internships can also be taken by someone trying to make a career change or wanting to add skills to his or her resume.

So, while they have traditionally been part of the college experience, internships have taken on a life of their own.

Are Internships Paid or Unpaid?

There are two types of internships. One that is paid, and one that isn’t. If your internship is unpaid, it doesn't necessarily mean it will not be a good experience. However, know what to expect in a quality unpaid internship, so you know you are not being taken advantage of.

In order for an internship to be unpaid, it must meet the following requirements:

  • Although it’s in a place of employment, it’s treated more as education than a job
  • It benefits you, the intern
  • You must work under supervision
  • You are not guaranteed a job at the end of your internship
  • There is an upfront agreement in place between you and the employer that you are not receiving compensation

What an Internship Can Do for You

These days, internships are a must. The job market is competitive, and employers are looking for new hires that already have a lot of experience under their belts.

  • Your internship could lead to a full time job. There is a growing number of employers hiring their interns in as full timers.
  • The more internships you do, the higher your pay could be once you graduate. Your experience is worth a lot!
  • Some internship programs can earn you college credits.
  • You can test the waters. By participating in internships, you can decide if you will even enjoy this career path you’re on, or if you'd like to pursue something different.
  • Your skill set in a real-world setting is increased. That is invaluable.
  • Not to mention, you’ll build your resume, network, and most importantly, your confidence.

What's the Difference Between an Internship and Externship?

Similarly, internships and externships offer you some sort of work experience, and both are temporary. However, there is a difference.

  • Externship: Externships could last a day, or they could last a couple of weeks. They are usually done during one of your school breaks. Essentially, you’re shadowing a person all day, gaining insight about the job. You’ll be able to ask your mentor questions and observe the work with a hands-off approach. Chances are, this is going to be unpaid and may not give you any credits toward your degree.
  • Internship: In direct contrast to an externship, internships may hold a small hourly rate, and you’ll also get course credit for the experience. The minimum amount of time internships are required to last is eight weeks.

Keep in mind, neither internships or externships guarantee a job.

How to Find an Internship

There are multiple ways to find internships once you’re ready. Have your resume ready to go and your references listed. Most importantly, don’t wait to be asked to be an intern; take matters into your own hands and pursue it!

  • Your school instructors: Your teachers may have a list of companies that partner with your program to hire interns.
  • School resources: Check your college library and job board. Oftentimes, employers will turn to local colleges and universities to advertise internships.
  • The internet: Websites like,, and all have internship listings you’ll be able to find. Also, use LinkedIn’s job feature; you can type “internship” into the search bar, set your parameters, and find one.
  • Family and friends: It never hurts to tap your personal resources; they may know someone who knows someone looking for an intern.

Before you accept an internship, make sure the company is following the Fair Labor Standard Act, which is set up to protect you.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge crucial to finding a great internship, you have the power to go forth and apply for many. And hey, good luck!