What To Look For In An Internship

By Danielle Wirsansky on February 21, 2019

One of the biggest experiences you will get to have, if you so choose, during college is an internship!

What exactly is an internship? Back in medieval times, the internship was the equivalent of an apprenticeship, where a young person would learn a craft or enter a field by shadowing underneath somebody who already a master. In return for their unpaid labor, they would often be provided room and board. Once they had enough skill to go off on their own, they would either stay and assist their master and take over once he wanted to retire or they would move on to an area where they were missing somebody with those skills.

Today, internships are similar but a little bit different. Internships.com defines an internship as “… an official program offered by an employer to potential employees. Interns work either part time or full time at a company for a certain period of time. Internships are most popular with undergraduates or graduate students who work between one to four months and have a goal to gain practical work or research related experience.”

On the surface, an internship is exactly that. However, internships have become a little bit more problematic in this day and age, which means you need to be a little careful when searching for the right internship for you to make sure you are not being taken advantage of.

As UrbanDictionary.com defines it, “An internship is when (usually a college undergraduate) goes and works for a company who can get away with paying him a very small salary or often nothing because he hasn’t graduated yet. It’s basically just working to make someone rich and getting nothing in return – the modern equivalent of slavery, except nowadays, people are actually willing.”

Obviously, an internship is a big commitment and you want to make sure that you have a good experience, one that enriches you, will actually help you out in the long run, and will not take advantage of you. There are a lot of factors to consider when looking for an internship, and the amount of questions you need to ask the company and yourself can be overwhelming. But getting the right internship for you will be worth it in the end and will definitely be worth the hassle! Read on for a list of questions to peruse to help you stay focused and fast track your search and acceptance of the right internship for you.

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Internship or Not?

Before you can even begin to decide if an internship opportunity is right for you, you have to decide if an internship at all is right for you or not. Is there any benefit in doing an internship for you? It often depends on the career field you want to go into and the opportunities that you have available to you. Can you afford to do an internship if all of the opportunities are unpaid?

Can you make the commitment to do the internship and actually get through it? Because if you flake out partway through, that will not help you to make a good impression or to gain any skills or knowledge.

Have you settled and decided what you want to do? Because if you are not sure, then doing an internship in what ends up being an unrelated field might not be that helpful in the long run. On the other hand, maybe you are really set on a career path and having the internship experience in that field will truly help you to determine if it is the right one. You might love the experience and have the satisfaction of knowing that you are really excited and passionate about what you want to do. On the other hand, actually being in that career field might show you that it is absolutely not the right path for you and help you avoid getting stuck in a job that you will end up disliking.

Maybe you are not convinced of the value of an internship? The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) “Class of 2014 Student Survey Report” suggests that “students compensated for their internship are much more likely to have received a job offer than those students with an unpaid internship.” The report goes on to say that 61% of graduating seniors had an internship experience and that 52% of those graduates who received job offers before graduation held internships while still in college.

It is up to you to decide if an internship experience will truly be valuable to you and help you get where you want to go!

Infographic by Danielle Wirsansky

Paid or Unpaid?

If you have decided that you are still interested in completing an internship after reading the above section, congratulations on forging a path all your own! The next step now after deciding an internship is for you is to consider whether you are willing to do a paid or unpaid internship.

As the UrbanDictionary.com definition pointed out, a lot of internships are unpaid. That is not to say that paid internships do not exist, but they are certainly less common and are much more competitive since just about everyone would prefer a paid internship over an unpaid one. The Viscardi Center reported that roughly 46.5% of internships were unpaid. But to be fair, even if an internship does provide compensation, it is often minimal and definitely below a living wage. Some might compensate you with a weekly stipend, a lump sum of money regardless of how much work you do, or will cover your costs to travel back and forth to work.

Can you afford to do an internship where you will not be paid? Can you afford to spend your summer doing an unpaid internship instead of a paying job to help you cover costs through the next school year? Summertime is a prime time for internships—but it is also when a majority of college students get their hustle on and work instead of going to school simply so that they can afford to return to school in the fall.

Will you get enough out of the internship that you will still benefit enough from the experience that you can overlook not being paid? Will you gain skills, experience, connections, and a valuable credit on your resume that will be worth the financial deficit?

Or are you advanced enough that you might as well get a real job rather than hold down an internship? Maybe you have had a few internships already or simply have a lot of work experience in a specific field. You already know that you want to do it and what it will be like, so that is not even a concern for you. All you need to do is graduate and you are ready to rumble and climb the ladder straight to the top of your field. At that point, an internship may not be for you.

If you cannot afford to do an internship where you will not be paid, do you have the skills and credentials to land the more competitive paid internship? If not, then an internship experience might just not be in the cards for you at present. You have got to keep your finances in check before you can really consider anything else, and there is nothing to be ashamed of if you are not in a place where doing an unpaid internship is financially sound. Most college students are broke—it is a common struggle. Just because an internship is not in the cards for you now does not mean that it will not be sometime further down the line.


Once you are past the question of paid versus unpaid, you then have to figure out the commute. How far do you have to travel to get to this internship? Is it in walking distance? A short drive? Perhaps a long drive or even a train or bus ride drive away? You need to know how far you have to travel and then consider the costs of said travel.

If you are doing an unpaid internship, can you really afford to commute an hour away? Especially if they are not going to compensate you for travel? And even if you are doing a paid internship, are they paying you enough that a distant commute will be worth your time and effort? Is what you are going to gain from the internship worth the commute?

They say time is money and your time (and money) is precious too! It is not only about being compensated for far travel—but is it worth the sacrifice of the amount of time it will take to get there?

If your commute is easy and not too far, it may be way less of an issue. But you always want to consider this aspect when looking for an internship.

College Credit?

The next question you should consider is whether or not you can get college credit for this internship—and whether or not you want it to count for credit or not too. Some college majors have a required internship component to them, which means that every student enrolled in the program must complete one in order to graduate with the degree. If this is the case, you definitely want to make sure that you are going to get college credit for your internship, regardless of it is paid or not. Get your requirements done and out of the way! There is nothing quite as satisfying as killing two birds with one stone, right?

If you do not need the college credit for your major, see if there are any other aspects of your college career that having that internship credit might come in handy. Some honor societies will accept internship credit as part of their requirements to graduate from the society. Even some honor programs hosted by the university itself might allow you to fulfill some component of its requirements with internship credit!

If any of this is the case, then you absolutely want to be sure to apply to internship programs that will offer you college credit accepted by your institution, and you need to be sure to accept an internship in the same vein.

If you absolutely do not need internship credit, then this widens the internships you can both apply for and accept. Just be sure you know about these requirements before you take on an internship experience without college credit, only to find out later that you needed it!


Room for Advancement?

This is not the biggest thing to consider when looking for an internship, but you should consider whether or not there is any room for advancement for you with this company. Do they ever hire their interns after the internship is up? That same NACE Study from 2014 reported that 42% of students who did paid internships (with for-profit organizations) received a full-time offer upon completing their internship. That is a pretty decent number! Doing an internship that could or will lead to a permanent job upon graduation is a really useful use of your time and can be really beneficial to your career. You show future employers that you made yourself so valuable, the company did not want to let you go! And by clinching that job with the same company, not only do you take a whole lot of stress off of yourself since you will not have to frantically job hunt as you near graduation, but you will also know exactly what to expect since you have already worked with this company in the past.

Graduating from school and moving out into the real world and starting your career can be daunting. But having that internship experience in your back pocket will make it all so much easier for you to navigate, if it is the right fit for you. While you do not want to look a gift internship in the mouth, always be sure to ask yourself questions to make sure it is the right fit for you!

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