What is an internship?

  • Structured learning experience in the workforce 

  • Relates to a student's major and/or career goal 

  • Includes specific job responsibilities entailing assisting in projects and not only performing small tasks 

  • Is supervised by a professional in the field who gives feedback and training 

  • Can be one academic term (summer, spring, fall) or multiple academic terms in length 

  • Can also be called a practicum or co-op, and sometimes student jobs can be considered internships 

  • Is mutually agreed upon by the student, supervisor and/or faculty member 

  • Meets registration requirements for 0 credit hour or academic internship course  

  • Is paid or unpaid, part-time or full-time  

Note: while many internships in non-profit organizations and governmental agencies are unpaid, for-profit organizations must pay you unless they meet U.S. Department of Labor standards (link is external) 

What are the benefits?

  • Career exploration
  • Leadership, competencies, and skill development 
  • Learn by doing 
  • Apply knowledge from the classroom 
  • Network and establish mentors and references 
  • Resume enhancements 
  • Gain required experience or competitive edge for full-time work or graduate school applications 
  • Option to register for course credit or transcript notation  

When Should I Start Looking?

  • It’s never too early to start, but we typically recommend 6-9 months in advance of when you hope to participate in an internship.   
  • Every field’s hiring timeline is different so while we recommend searching far in advance, you may still be applying up through April or early May for some summer internships in some fields. 
  • In general, you can expect national, very competitive employers to hire up to a year ahead of time in the summer or fall of the year prior to the summer internship.  
  • Do not hesitate to ask career coaches about the hiring timeline in your specific field. 

What makes a good internship?

Green Flags 

  • A clearly identified supervisor  
  • Opportunities for feedback 
  • Orientation, and training as needed 
  • Clear duties with projects or tasks that require higher order thinking, exposure to new skills, or ability to apply what you have learned in the classroom 
  • Opportunities for meeting those inside and outside your department (examples include department, staff, and/or committee meetings, client meetings, trainings, organization socials or networking events, mentoring programs, or 1:1 meet & greets or shadow opportunities)  

Red Flags 

  • Internship description or verbal descriptions in interviews only involve menial tasks (ex. data entry, filing, running errands, etc.) 
  • Supervisor does not indicate regular meetings or does not mention evaluations 
  • Micro-aggressions in interviews 
  • Lack of goals or learning opportunities for the intern 
  • Over work; lack of work-life balance as part of organizational culture 
  • Unprofessional, disrespectful, or too much rule-bending in the organizational culture 
  • Unpaid internships at a for-profit company are legal only if the company is following Department of Labor rules.  
  • Safety or fraud concerns 

How do I make it work with my schedule and finances?

Many students find it challenging to complete an internship due to timing, location or financial challenges. These are a few of the ways students have addressed some of the challenges, sometimes combining their strategies in order to make it work.

  • Remote internships
  • Part-time internships during the school year (internships can be as little as 10 hours per week) 
  • Live with a family member to eliminate or reduce housing cost during a summer internship 
  • Apply for funding for unpaid opportunities: Hawkeye Experience Grant, Student Impact Grants and inquire with your college and academic department regarding internship stipends or scholarships. 
  • When possible, put money aside each month starting freshman year. If you save a few thousand dollars over the course of 3 years, many can do a quarter or half-time unpaid internship (or research, leadership, in-depth service experience) during the summer between junior and senior year while also working a half-time paid summer job. From August of freshman year to May of junior year, you would aim for setting aside a little over $200 a month.
  • Consider making an appointment with UI Financial Literacy Services to discuss your goals and how to fit your internship (or other relevant experience) into your short- or long-term budget.

If an internship does not seem financially and logistically possible for you, then prioritize gaining experience relevant to your field through paid work and courses that contain service & community engagement, consulting, or large projects. Additionally, sometimes part-time jobs that are relevant to your career field can be considered an internship and used for course registration. 

Who can help me?

Do not forget to schedule an appointment with your career coach to discuss your motivations, goals, and priorities for your internship as well as get field specific tips and resources. This worksheet can also help you with your planning. 


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