Know Your Options: Fellowship vs. Internship

Dana Guterman
Updated: November 19, 2019

Nowadays, a college internship is considered the foundation of your career, allowing aspiring employees to explore different fields, gain hands-on experience, and connect with seasoned professionals.

But there are other options, too, when it comes to preparing for your full-time future. For those who have already chosen their career path, particularly graduate and postgraduate students, a fellowship can provide invaluable experience.

What is a fellowship?

A fellowship is a monetary prize awarded to a student based on their academic records and potential to succeed and make an impact in their chosen field. Whereas internships provide an opportunity to explore potential career paths through hands-on experience, fellowships offset tuition costs without any work requirement, and they augment the fellow’s academic studies in their chosen field.

While undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students can pursue fellowships, they are most commonly awarded to graduates and postgraduates. For this reason, a fellowship is often assumed to be a scholarship that funds additional academic opportunities for someone who has already earned their undergraduate degree. A fellowship can fund tuition, extracurricular activities, trips, conferences, events, or research. While the length of a fellowship varies, they typically last at least one year.

What are the benefits of a fellowship?

As an intern, you’re exploring a potential career, and the experience can be paid or unpaid. There are a lot of unknowns. As a fellow, you’re working in your chosen field, doing what you want to be doing. Even though you’re getting paid, there are no work requirements, allowing you put more time and energy into your studies. And because you’re already working towards specific long-term career goals, you can start building your reputation right away. Finally, fellowships look great on your resume, particularly if you’re looking to go into academia.

How do you get a fellowship?

Internships are competitive, but fellowships are often more so. Because they are purely merit-based, you won’t be able to use your connections to snag one. Instead, you’ll have to rely on your prior achievements and accolades, published works, and/or academic record. National and international fellowships are the most competitive, as anyone can apply. A few tips to up your chances: Read all the stipulations carefully and have a crystal-clear idea of what you want to do with your career.


Other alternatives to an internship include an apprenticeship, externship, or co-op. To learn more, read our guides to apprenticeships, externships, and co-ops.