The Basics

What is an Internship?

What is an internship? The Random House Dictionary defines the word as:

“Any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession.”

The modern concept of internships essentially springs from the medieval apprenticeship, in which skilled laborers (often craftsmen) would teach a young person their trade and, in exchange, that person would agree to work for the teacher for a certain length of time.

The main difference between an apprenticeship and an internship is that internships are more exploratory. You're not bound to work for your employer after the internship is over (although many interns do receive job offers). If you start early enough to do a few internships throughout college, you can use the first ones to get a feel for what career you'd like to pursue and the later ones to build your experience.

Internships can be paid or unpaid — though, if they are unpaid, they’re usually subject to stringent labor guidelines. In the U.S., federal law mandates that unpaid interns must not benefit the company economically or be used to displace the work done by paid employees. Some states have their own regulations regarding interns. For example, in California, unpaid interns must receive college credit for their work.

Most American internships are work experience internships — essentially on-the-job training in a field that the student or young worker wants to learn more about. But there are also research internships, more common in scientific fields, in which a higher-level student examines a particular topic on behalf of a business before producing a written study or presentation.

Though employment isn’t guaranteed at the end of an internship, many employers use internships as a way to train and evaluate future employees. In fact, a 2009 NACE survey of U.S. employers with interns found that 67% of those interns were given job offers after their terms were complete.

What is an internship? The Random House Dictionary defines the word as:

“Any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession.”

The modern concept of internships essentially springs from the medieval apprenticeship, in which skilled laborers (often craftsmen) would teach a young person their trade and, in exchange, that person would agree to work for the teacher for a certain length of time. The main difference between this practice and the modern American internship is the way the experiences end: Nowadays, there is no promise of employment at the end of an internship.

Internships can be paid or unpaid — though, if they are unpaid, they’re usually subject to stringent labor guidelines. In the U.S., federal law mandates that unpaid interns must not benefit the company economically or be used to displace the work done by paid employees. Some states have their own regulations regarding interns. For example, in California, unpaid interns must receive college credit for their work.

Most American internships are work experience internships — essentially on-the-job training in a field that the student or young worker wants to learn more about. But there are also research internships, more common in scientific fields, in which a higher-level student examines a particular topic on behalf of a business before producing a written study or presentation.

Though employment isn’t guaranteed at the end of an internship, many employers use internships as a way to train and evaluate future employees. In fact, a recent survey of U.S. employers with interns found that 67% of those interns were given job offers after their terms were complete.