Internships are temporary jobs that provide an opportunity to gain entry-level work experience — and can be an invaluable steppingstone to a new career.
People who work in internships, or interns, often are college students preparing for their first professional role, but they also can be people who are changing careers.
While interns can gain a variety of advantages from internships, they aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the experience. Employers often find talented employees among their interns.
In fact, if you’re wondering why to do an internship during college, consider this: According to a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) report, 66% of students who completed internships in 2020 became full-time employees at the companies where they interned. In addition, NACE reports that employers aim to hire at least 50% of interns as full-time employees.
Opportunities for career advancement are just one of the many benefits of completing internships during college.
How Long Are Internships?
Internships usually last 10 to 12 weeks, the length of a typical academic semester. But determining how long internships are requires a look at the different types of internships, as well as similar career-training opportunities, because they can vary in length.
Types of Internships
Work-related experience during college can come in many forms, from paid internships that take place during an academic term to externships that coincide with winter or spring breaks.
As their name implies, paid internships offer compensation. Because regulations regarding paid internships’ length are more lax than they are for unpaid internships, paid internships may last six months or more.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) sets guidelines for how long an unpaid internship may last. Most of these programs are 10 to 12 weeks in duration.
Internship abroad programs provide work experience in a foreign country. They also typically are unpaid, with interns relying on fundraising and scholarships to cover costs. Internships abroad frequently occur during summer or winter breaks, lasting about two months.
Cooperative Education (Co-Ops)
The terms “internship” and “co-op” sometimes are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Cooperative education, or a co-op, combines classroom instruction with in-the-field work experience. Co-ops generally are paid opportunities that span multiple academic semesters, with responsibility increasing according to education level.
Externships are short-term training programs that provide students with quick ways to explore career interests. These programs often coincide with a student’s winter or spring break, lasting from a single day to about six weeks.
Other Factors Affecting Internship Length
In addition to the type of internship, other factors can help determine how long internships are.
- Timing of the job opening. A company might have a set time frame for when it will need assistance, scheduling an internship to coincide with that work.
- Corporate budget. Especially in the case of paid internships, the amount of money a business budgets to fund internships can dictate the length of time the position will be available.
- Organizational goals. A company that wants to provide an intern with an in-depth look at a career field likely will offer a longer internship, while a company whose goal is to offer a quick introduction to the industry may offer a shorter one.
- Cost to the intern. In the case of unpaid internships, the cost to the student may limit the amount of time they can afford to spend in the role.
- Student availability. Interns who still are in school must time their participation around their academic schedules, while recent graduates may have more flexibility.
Are Unpaid Internships Worth It?
Another aspect to consider when thinking about why to do an internship during college is whether pursuing an unpaid internship makes sense. Employment website Indeed reports that most interns with Fortune 500 companies and in the private sector are employees who receive pay. Some of the fields that typically offer paid internships are:
- Information technology
- Public relations
However, the DOL allows companies to offer unpaid internships under certain circumstances, and these unpaid roles are common. According to the NACE survey, more than 40% of U.S. internships are unpaid. Despite the lack of compensation provided, unpaid internships offer benefits that you should weigh when deciding whether unpaid internships are worth it.
The Primary Beneficiary Test
When evaluating whether to pursue an unpaid internship, a first step entails noting the requirements for these unpaid positions to ensure that the company is offering the unpaid role lawfully. The DOL permits unpaid internships for public sector and nonprofit organizations, as long as the intern has no expectation of compensation.
In the case of for-profit companies, the DOL uses the “primary beneficiary test,” based on the seven guidelines below, to determine whether an intern is exempt from employee status and may be an unpaid intern.
- The intern must be aware they will not receive pay.
- The on-the-job training must be comparable to that from an educational institution.
- The internship should correspond to the intern’s educational program or provide academic credit.
- The program should accommodate the intern’s academic calendar.
- The length of the internship should correspond to the amount of time required for useful learning.
- The intern’s work should provide beneficial experience while complementing the work of an existing employee.
- The company should clearly communicate that the internship offers no guarantee of a permanent job following the program.
Benefits of Unpaid Internships
Unpaid internships that follow established guidelines offer a variety of benefits, from experience and knowledge to networking and opportunities for career advancement.
Like paid interns, unpaid interns can gain resume-building experience in their chosen fields and knowledge about how to work in them. This hands-on training can provide an up-close look at day-to-day activities in a specific career, and it can teach workplace etiquette, interpersonal skills, and conflict resolution. Additionally, unpaid roles may present less pressure than paid internships, giving unpaid interns added freedom to dig deeper into projects, try new approaches, and evaluate their suitability for a profession.
The connections forged during an unpaid internship also are of paramount importance. While interns have no guarantee of full-time employment with companies after their internships end, these roles — paid and unpaid — can lead to permanent positions. They also build connections that can link interns to current and future opportunities with other organizations. Additionally, unpaid internships often serve as an opportunity for company leadership to provide mentoring and training that go beyond what a paid intern might receive, since paid interns’ roles may be closer to that of an employee.
Where to Find Internships
When investigating why to do an internship during college, thinking about where opportunities for internships might be available also makes sense. A few key resources and strategies can simplify the process of pursuing those roles.
Resources for an Internship Search
Taking a proactive approach by searching online, on the phone, or, when practical, in person can give you a leg up in seeking opportunities for career experience. Many helpful resources for where to find internships are at your disposal.
University Career Services Office
Your university career services office, accessed online or in person, can be an excellent source of information about internships, as well as resources for finding them. Counselors in the office also can offer advice about selecting a career path.
Not only can networking help when looking for a full-time job, but it also is an effective tool in an internship search. Family and friends, as well as university alumni, faculty, and advisors, can direct you to companies that might be seeking interns. These contacts also can often provide referrals.
Follow on social media any companies where you’d like to have an internship. Most organizations post information about openings on social media channels — including LinkedIn, where you also can search for companies’ hiring managers. Additionally, you can use LinkedIn’s job search feature to look for opportunities by job title, skill, company, and location.
Other Online Sources
Whether simply doing a browser search for internship opportunities in a certain geographical area or leveraging internship tools, using other online sources is another option for where to find internships. Internship finders include:
Online job boards, such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster, can be a good place to search for companies that are looking for help. Classified ads in the print and online editions of newspapers and other periodicals also provide information about who’s hiring.
Top employers often attend career fairs, including those hosted at universities, to recruit interns. Prepare a brief introduction to describe how you could benefit a company.
Selecting 10 to 20 companies of interest and reaching out to their hiring managers is another option for where to find internships. When reaching out directly to businesses, be prepared to briefly describe the value you could provide, and take the opportunity to interview the company representative about their work.
Remember, not all internship opportunities require in-person attendance, so confining an internship search to a specific location is not always necessary. In fact, 72% of internships included in the NACE survey in 2020 were conducted remotely as the nation grappled with restrictions related to COVID-19.
Tips for a Successful Internship Search
To put yourself in the best position to find an internship, start your search early and then employ some important internship search strategies.
Some roles have early deadlines. Preparing for summer internships in the fall, for example, can be helpful in meeting corporate hiring timelines, some of which are as early November of the prior year. Extra time allows for outreach to network contacts and career services professionals as well.
Identify the parameters for the roles you’re seeking — without being too specific. Being open to a variety of opportunities gives you more options for learning in your selected field.
Create an Impactful Resume
Develop a resume that you customize for each role you seek. Additionally, create a LinkedIn profile that focuses on the terms companies will search.
Benefits of Internships in College
So, why do an internship during college? Internships benefit students and the companies that hire them. Students gain valuable experience, connections, and the potential for full-time roles. Businesses benefit from a fresh perspective and additional help — and get access to talent they might decide to bring on staff.
How Internships Benefit Students
Internships in college can be a critical part of a student’s education and preparation for a new career or a career change. For example, interns can benefit by:
- Gaining work experience. Internships expose students to the workplace environment and offer experience in their chosen fields. You might even have the opportunity to put your own research or other classwork to use on the job.
- Developing soft skills. Day-to-day interaction with others on work projects can help interns develop important interpersonal skills, such as time management and leadership.
- Resume building. Gaining workplace experience is an asset when writing a resume. Internships allow you to list specific knowledge and skills you used in the workplace.
- Making connections. The workplace connections gained during an internship can be a good source of mentoring, connections to opportunities, and recommendations for jobs.
- Evaluating a career choice. Internships in college provide an up-close look at work in your chosen field, without requiring commitment to a permanent role. Learning more about a job can help you build confidence and establish career goals.
- Earning a job. Interns who prove themselves to be quick learners and hard workers can gain an advantage for permanent roles with that company after the internship ends.
How Internships Benefit Companies
Interns also can be assets for the companies where they work. Organizations that offer internships benefit by:
- Increasing their visibility. Companies that hire interns can foster relationships with the universities those students attend, strengthening an important talent pipeline. They also give back to the community by helping to develop its workforce.
- Finding future employees. Not only can internships help employers expand their talent pool, but they also can be a proving ground for interns who show potential as future employees.
- Increasing corporate productivity. Interns can provide an additional pair of hands for projects that need the extra help.
- Gaining a different perspective. Bringing new people to a team provides diverse thinking, strengths, and skills in activities such as brainstorming sessions.
Take the Brave Step That Can Jump-Start Your Career
Completing an internship during college, whether paid or unpaid, provides a host of benefits, not only for students but also for the organizations that enlist their help. For college students, internships offer valuable experience, opportunities for skill development, and networking connections — and might even lead to a permanent job or career change.
If you’re ready to earn a degree or certificate that can help you pursue your goals as an intern and professional, explore Maryville University. With online bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and certificate programs designed to provide students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in the workplace — while offering the convenience and flexibility of an online education — Maryville can inspire the courage you need to take the brave step toward a new career.