What is an internship?

Carleton defines an internship as an experience that:

  • Provides “real world” experience beyond the classroom
  • Benefits both the student and the internship provider
  • Involves a high level of direct supervision, training, and mentoring
  • Is defined by clear and attainable learning goals (as agreed on between the intern and supervisor in advance)
  • Lasts at least six weeks in length and (generally) provides at least 240 hours of professional experience 
  • Can be domestic or international

An internship is not the same as a short-term job or a volunteer experience. An internship has structured learning goals and active supervision. It provides the opportunity for you to gain experience that will make your résumé stand out. Internships can expand your self-knowledge and provide you with insights into various career fields. You will also gain marketable skills and important contacts in your field of interest. Through an internship, you can apply your classroom knowledge in the workplace. You can find out what you like (or don’t like) about various types of work. Organizations prefer to hire students who can demonstrate the practical work experience and skills gained through an internship.

What’s the difference between an internship, an externship, and a fellowship?

ObjectiveProvides direct experience to connect career and academic interestsProvides direct experience to connect career and academic interestsSystematic investigation calculated to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge; not institutional research intended for use only at and by Carleton employees or studentsProvides direct experience or opportunity to conduct research in a chosen area of interest
ActivityMaximize participation with ongoing observation; enhance existing skills and abilities and discover new skills and abilitiesMaximize observation, with some opportunity for participation, usually in the form of a shorter‐term, focused projectMaximize independent work and personal initiative through researchMaximize independent work and personal initiative, through research, volunteering, and/or travel
ReflectionDevelop learning goals and engage in reflection activitiesDevelop learning goals and engage in reflection activitiesMay or may not involve learning goals and reflectionsMay or may not involve learning goals and reflections
SupervisionProvide close supervision with regular feedback and mentoring between supervisor and internProvide close supervision with frequent formal interaction between supervisor and externMay or may not have a supervising elementMay or may not have a supervising element
LengthLonger‐term (at least 6 weeks and 240 hours)Shorter term (1-3 weeks)Can be either shorter or longer termCan be either shorter or longer term
TimingRequire sustained length of time, often over summer breakWinter BreakVariesThe majority—though not all—are completed during summer or winter break
Compensation (from host site)May be paid or unpaidUnpaidMay be paid or unpaidUnpaid
Funding/Award EligibilityMay be eligible for Carleton funding to offset associated travel and accommodation expensesMay be eligible for Career Center funding to offset associated travel and accommodation expensesProjects connected to academic work may be eligible for funding from the Office of Student Fellowships or some academic departments (contact relevant Departmental Administrative Assistants for further information)Fellowships administered by Carleton are awarded competitively through the Office of Student Fellowships.

Why should I do an internship?

  • Improve your chances of getting hired: 25 percent of employers surveyed indicated that their new college hires come from within the organization’s internship program.
  • Gain valuable experience: 55 percent of responding employers indicate that new college hires have previous internship experience.
  • Earn a higher salary: 64 percent of the employers say they pay new full-time hires with internship experience an average of 8.9 percent more than their inexperienced counterparts.

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook Survey

What makes for a great internship? 

Students who have had great internships often talk about the importance of:  

  • A strong relationship with a supervisor: A good internship allows you to work with a supervisor who will provide you with direction and support, and spend time mentoring you.
  • Learning: During an internship, you will learn much about an organization through direct experience. Other staff members can share their perspective to help you to understand more about roles and activities.
  • Goals: Commit to some personal learning goals that you hope to fulfill during your internship. Talk about them with your internship supervisor. Check in with your supervisor periodically to check your progress. After the internship, take some time to reflect on what you learned.
  • Flexibility and creativity: Think about how an organization can use utilize your existing skills. What new skills could be gained by interning at this organization? Although some of the tasks you are asked to perform may be mundane, your time there will allow you to learn more about the field of work while building your skills. 
  • Self-discovery: Use the internship to learn more about yourself. Do I like to work alone or in a group? Do I prefer more formal settings or less formal? Is it important to me that my colleagues share my personal values? Do I prefer working in larger or smaller organizations?

Whom should I talk to about finding an internship?

The Career Center! SCAs (Student Career Assistants) can help you with basic questions about how to find internships, fund an internship, and get your application materials (resume, cover letter, and application forms) ready. Counseling staff are always available to you by email, by appointment, or during drop-in hours.