Know Your Options: Apprenticeship vs. Internship

Dana Guterman
Updated: November 19, 2019

In addition to being the gateway to a full-time job for many, internships provide aspiring employees with invaluable skills, connections, and experiences.

But while an internship is the most well-known way to get hands-on experience, you have other options, too. For those who know what they want to do but need some on-the-job training, consider pursuing an apprenticeship.

What is an apprenticeship?

When you think of an apprenticeship, you probably hark back to medieval times, when a skilled laborer would teach a young person his trade and, in exchange, the pupil would sign on to work for the instructor for a certain amount of time. Many hundreds of years later, that’s still the basic model. An apprenticeship is a long-term program that combines on-the-job training, complementary coursework, and paid labor. While internships are exploratory and (typically) short-term, apprenticeships are a commitment, lasting from one-to-six years. While students enrolled in technical school or community college often pursue an apprenticeship, don’t expect to do one while completing a standard four-year degree.

As an apprentice, you’ll do hands-on work in your chosen field from day one. There are national industry standards for apprenticeship training, so post-apprenticeship, you’ll have your pick of roles—or you can apply those credits to a bachelor’s degree. And while many apprenticeships are connected to trade and vocational schools, there are also apprenticeships available in fields like health care, financial services, and business administration.

What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?

As an intern, you’re at a company in an exploratory capacity. You may or may not get a full-time job offer at the end of the program, and you may or may not get paid for your time. Apprenticeships are full-time, paid jobs—but you don’t have to have previous industry experience to get hired. Instead, you’ll be paid to learn from day one. This means that you benefit by earning credits, growing your skills, and getting a steady paycheck. At the same time, the employer gets a highly skilled worker, who truly understands the role. In addition to a salary, apprentices enrolled at participating technical or community colleges can earn college credits while they work.

Apprenticeships also have high retention rates. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, 91% of apprentices retain employment after the program ends. One more benefit? An apprenticeship allows for progressive increases in wages commensurate with experience, so the longer you’re there, the more you’ll earn.

How do you get an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships can be an alternative to a four-year degree or a stepping stone along the way. High school students, as well as those enrolled in technical schools or community colleges, can pursue apprenticeship opportunities. To start exploring, simply visit the Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship website to search for current apprenticeship programs by location and field. In addition, many community colleges and trade schools offer their own programs. Note that each employer sets their own qualifications for an apprenticeship, including age, education level, and previous test scores.


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