What is an Internship? And Some Other Frequently Asked Questions

By Ellen Zhang

Ellen Zhang

Ellen Zhang

Chief Marketing Officer

Let’s get back to the basics. We’ve written a lot about best practices for interns and intern managers…but what exactly is an internship? Here are some Frequently Asked Questions people have about internships and internship programs.

What is an internship?

An internship is a program offered by organizations for students and other individuals seeking to learn about and gain experience in a specific field of study. The key characteristic of an internship is that it is on-the-job experiential learning in the intern’s chosen field of interest.

Who can intern?

There are internship programs available to all walks of life. However, interns are typically university students who are preparing for full-time careers in their fields of study. There are also other internship programs offered to high school students, law school students, MBA students, as well as candidates in their mid-careers.

What types of companies offer internship programs?

Companies from all different industries and business stages offer internship programs. Whether you want to work for a Global Fortune 100 company or a small startup, there is something out there for everyone. Curious as to which companies have the largest internship programs? Check out CollegeGrad.com’s list of Top Intern Employers.

How does an internship differ from other types of work?

People often wonder how internships differ from apprenticeships and part-time jobs. If you’re an apprentice, it means that you have already secured a job and are being trained to meet your employer’s expectations. While both internships and apprenticeships provide hands-on training, internships are there for you to gain experience. Apprenticeships almost always guarantee a well-paying job once training is complete.

A part-time job involves a contract and a salary – guaranteed. An internship offers no guarantee of employment, however, they’re invaluable because you’ll walk away with first-hand experience and ripe knowledge of your industry.

How long do internships typically last?

Because many programs occur during the summer when students are off from school, internships typically last for two to three months. Part-time internships can range anywhere from three months to six months and longer as they are spread over multiple semesters.

How can I find an internship?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Send your updated resume with a professional cover letter to your favorite companies, even if they’re not hiring. They’ll value your initiative and, hopefully, save your contact for future reference.

There are also various websites online designed specifically to help undergraduates find internships and full-time jobs. Some of these websites include Way Up, Internships.com, and IneWork hard. Ask questions, network, set goals, stay positive, and make contact.

Can I intern abroad?

Yes, an internship abroad can be an exciting way for interns to also take part in an international experience while gaining real working experience in their field. This is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and build your resume at the same time. Interning abroad can also help you practice your foreign language skills and make you adaptable and culturally aware. These are just some of the many reasons you should consider doing an intern abroad. You can check out Radhika Gupta’s internship experience in Prague as featured in our #LifeOfAnIntern series.

For some best practices on how to succeed in your internship abroad, you can check out our blog post on best practices for finding, landing, and succeeding in an internship abroad.

Why are internships important?

Internships play an important part in the workforce ecosystem. They help students and people transitioning in their careers test out their fields of work and learn more about their potential workplaces. Students who complete internships before they graduate are more likely to land a job once they have graduated. Internships also allow employers to funnel tested talent into full-time roles.

Are internships paid?

Internships can be paid or unpaid. This is actually a huge controversy! There’s much debate over whether internships should be paid or not. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, interns are not considered employees. Therefore, companies are not required to pay their interns. Nevertheless, it is best practice for companies to pay their interns an hourly wage and/or offer a stipend for them. If you’re choosing between paid and unpaid internships, here’s a helpful guide from WayUp.

Can I get academic credit for my internship?

Check your university’s policies. You might have to either go to your department’s head or to the university’s career center. Not all schools offer academic credit for internships. Typically, if your school does offer academic credit, there needs to be some kind of partnership between the company and the school to ensure your internship program meets standards of quality. Make sure you fill out any necessary forms before you start your internship and that your internship schedule meets the number of hours you need to intern in order to receive your academic credits.

How can I succeed in my internship?

All internship experiences are different, but here are some helpful tips that can help you succeed in any internship:

• Network with both direct and indirect coworkers. Maintain these connections; they could prove valuable.

• Show initiative. Complete projects efficiently and accurately, and ask to help with additional projects.

• Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn as much as you can.

Read our “Tips for Interns by Interns” post for additional tips.