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Looking for an Internship? Consider These Factors First

A red puzzle piece with the word internship on it.

​Internships can serve as a valuable way to learn more about a career you are interested in pursuing, broaden your professional network and lead to full-time work—sometimes with the very organization where you interned.

But how do you find an internship that's right for you and your goals? Consider the following when investigating internships.

Do Your Research

Here are some questions to ask when researching an internship, according to myFuture, a site produced by the U.S. Department of Defense using data from the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Education and Labor, and according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE):

  • What is the start and end date of the internship and how many hours a week will I be expected to work?
  • How flexible is this internship? If the internship is during the school year, will I be able to schedule my internship around my classes?
  • Who will manage me? There should be routine feedback from an experienced supervisor.
  • What will my internship duties be and will I have projects to work on? There should be "clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student's academic coursework," according to NACE. 
  • Is this a paid or unpaid internship? The Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that only 30 percent of all college students—approximately 3.28 million—take an internship, according to Matthew T. Hora, associate professor and co-director of the school's Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. He was lead researcher for the paper, "Exploring Online Internships Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020-2021."
"Of those 3 million student interns, estimates are that between 30 percent and 50 percent are unpaid, meaning at least 1 million student interns are working for free, which is a problem when it comes to equity and access for low-income students," according to the researchers.

Visit your college career center to boost your chance of landing a paid internship, NACE advises.

"The likelihood of securing a paid internship increases for students who visit their campus career center—the actual bricks and mortar facility—for internship assistance," NACE says on its website.

Online Internships

A 2020 study by the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions suggests students pursuing an online internship do the following:
  • Determine whether a short-term micro-internship or a longer-term internship program is desirable, recognizing the pros and cons of each.
  • Reflect whether you can self-monitor and self-regulate your work schedule and habits and find ways to improve, if necessary.
  • Ensure you have sufficient information and communication technologies such as a laptop and Internet access. If not, seek assistance from your college and/or the host organization. Also, find out how often you will be checking in with your manager and in what format.
  • Determine if the internship provider or host has a clear plan for your work and supervision.
  • Seek opportunities with the internship host and/or your college for networking with other interns, professionals at the host organization or alumni at your institution.
  • Research the organization's internship program, ensuring that they are a legitimate organization.

Legitimate Internships

Keep in mind the criteria NACE uses to define a legitimate internship:
  • The internship is a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom and is not simply to advance the employer's operations or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
  • The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
  • The experience has a defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.
  • There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student's academic coursework.
  • There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.
  • There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.  
  • There are resources, equipment and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.



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