What Are the Different Types of Internships? - Intern Program Tips

Updated: 1/25/2019

If you’re considering starting an internship program, you may be wondering about different types of internships. Most internships can be categorized according to five basic dimensions. Below, we’ll examine these five categories and define the term “externships.”

  1. Time of year. Internships typically run the duration of an academic quarter or semester, or over a summer or winter break. Summer internships are typically the most popular because students have less academic requirements and more availability.

    Based on the time of year, the basic types of internships are semester internships, quarterly internships, summer internships, fall internships, spring internships, and holiday or winter internships (i.e. over a winter break). It’s also possible to work with interns for longer durations, or even year-round.

  2. Industry. Internship programs are also classified by industry; this usually corresponds with the interns' majors. While there are obviously hundreds of possibilities, some of the most common include marketing internships, advertising internships, finance internshipsfine or performing arts internships, legal internships, technology internshipsPR internships, and publishing internships.

  3. Paid versus unpaid internships. There are legal ramifications—and blurred lines—regarding whether it is permissible to employ interns without pay (most depend on meeting the legal definition of "intern")1. For now, however, it's sufficient to say that paid internships and unpaid internships are other methods of classification.

    If you offer an unpaid internship, you will be limited in the amount and type of work that you can assign to the intern. The primary beneficiary of an unpaid internship must be the intern, and the intern’s work cannot replace the work of an employee.

    And given the choice between a paid or unpaid internship, it’s not surprising that most interns would choose the former. They’re also more likely to recommend your internship program to future interns if they are compensated.

    If your company can afford to pay interns, it’s best practice to do so. If not, try to reward your unpaid interns in other ways (e.g. free food, opportunities to network, a glowing letter of recommendation, and so on).

  4. Credit versus no-credit internships. For-credit internships and not-for-credit internships is another type of categorization, as it's a common misconception that internships are always in exchange for college or university credit.

    In actuality, internships can be part of academic coursework; however, they can also be part of an individual's extracurricular plan to gain experience. When an internship is performed in exchange for college credit, the assigning of credit is strictly between the student and his or her school.

    To be worthy of college credit, an internship must be strongly related to an academic discipline. Interns may be required by their university to keep a journal, write an essay, or complete a presentation to demonstrate what they learned from the internship.

    If your internship position is clerical or mechanical in nature, it’s unlikely that interns will be able to earn college credit.

    That doesn’t mean your internship position won’t be attractive to quality candidates. Post the internship for free on Internships.com, being sure to emphasize the experiential benefits your internship program offers. There, you can connect with millions of college students seeking valuable work experience.

  5. On location versus virtual internships. When you post an internship online, students across the nation will see it. If your internship is location-based, it’s important to identify the location in your posting. For instance, you may be offering a New York City internship, a San Diego internship, a Washington D.C. internship, etc.

    Another option is a “virtual internship,” which can be completed remotely. This means your intern can work from home rather than in the office. Virtual internships can be attractive to interns who value flexibility, and it can broaden your search to include talented interns outside of your area. This can be a natural fit for a company with many locations or many remote employees.

  6. Externships. Another option is an externship, which is generally shorter than an internship. Externships provide brief experiential learning opportunities for students, typically consisting of a day to a few weeks.

    Externships are sometimes referred to as job shadowing. They allow students to gain insight and knowledge in a career field of interest. Students may then determine whether the job’s day-to-day activities and responsibilities are a good fit for their skills and interests.

    If you’d like to test-drive the idea of an internship program, you may want to start by offering brief externships. Students who enjoy the externship may become future interns or even future hires.

Employee takeaway: There are various types of internships to meet various needs. They vary by industry and location, and you may choose to offer a shorter externship, an internship that’s paid or unpaid, or even a virtual internship.

Whatever type of internship program works for you, post your listing on Internships.com to connect with millions of talented student interns.

1"United States Department of Labor Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act"