Since he co-starred in The Intern with Anne Hathaway in 2015, Robert De Niro may be one of the oldest interns to become popular in America. Two years earlier, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson tried to make it big as Google’s newest interns. Not just for college students, internships provide individuals with the opportunity to explore their career goals by taking on short-term, entry-level positions with a company. Some internships can be scheduled around college classes; at others, interns work full-time for ten weeks during the summer. Whatever the details, internships can provide a starting point for a career.


What is an internship?

An internship is an opportunity for an individual to learn what it is like to work for a certain company, often in an entry-level position that lasts anywhere from a month to a year. Unlike in an apprenticeship, in which an individual signs on to learn a specific trade that will likely become a lifelong occupation, interns are not required to work for their employers after the internship is over (though they may be given a full-time offer). Internships are often used as more of an exploratory measure so that individuals can dip their toes into a certain industry and decide if it is something worth pursuing in the future. Since internships are much shorter than apprenticeships, it is possible to complete more than one in the same period of time that it would take to complete an apprenticeship. Internships, though, are not a replacement for postsecondary education, and they are often used as a supplement to college.

Are internships a good source of income?

Internships may be paid an hourly wage, a stipend, or “in experience.” The 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that the average hourly wage for a bachelor’s degree-level intern was $17.69; however, wages depend entirely on the industry of the internship and the company’s financial situation. Unpaid internships are not uncommon. They provide experience that can be listed on a résumé instead of money. Paid internships, on the other hand, have a better track record of leading to jobs than unpaid internships do. In fact, a paid internship is about twice as likely to lead to a job.

Depending on the timing of the internship, though, taking an unpaid internship is still a great way to network and learn new skills. For instance, taking an unpaid internship during the summer after freshman year is a great way to get experience, especially if the internship is close to home and you don’t have to spend extra money on housing. You could then use the connections you make there as references on applications to other internships or try to land a paid internship at the same company the next summer. The closer you get to graduation, the more you may want to explore paid options. Regardless of what you choose to do, having an internship is better than having no work experience at all.

What are the benefits of completing an internship?

  • You will gain experience to add to your résuméWhether or not the internship turns out to be in an industry that you’d like to pursue further, your résumé will get a boost from the time you spend on your internship. Any type of experience is relevant to a future job (even if you are just a secretary, for instance, you’ll learned valuable communications skills and likely some word processing or database management skills as well). Adding the experience to your résumé is a great way to show that you’ve used your time well throughout college.
  • You will learn what you are attracted to in the workplace. You may love your internship, the company for which you intern, or the industry as a whole, or you may hate it. Either way, you will acquire valuable information about what you want to look for in a career.
  • You might get paid. Not all internships are paid, but if you’re offered a paid internship, you’ll earn money just like you would at a regular job. You can use it to pay your bills, fund your personal retirement account, or plan a fun adventure. No one likes to pass up extra cash!
  • Internships are often short. Unlike apprenticeships, which last an average of four years, and jobs, which are generally not meant to be temporary, internships have very reliable start and end dates. They are perfect for college students since many internships align with summer break, though they can be as long as one year. Students who decide to do multiple internships can garner a variety of different skills in a relatively short period of time and complete their college education concurrently.
  • You may earn college credit. Depending on the industry you’re in and the skills you’re learning, your college may award you credit for completing an internship. Some schools may call your internship by another name: fieldwork. Talk to both your academic advisor and an advisor in the campus career center to learn more about this possibility.
  • You will network. Regardless of whether or not your internship is paid and whether or not you actually enjoy the job, you will meet people who could provide references in the future. Even if you absolutely hate your boss, do not burn any bridges by quitting early or saying a few choice words to your supervisor on your last day. Stay courteous, thankful, and professional at all times, and connect with these people on LinkedIn. You never know when you’ll need a recommendation or a professional reference.
  • You will gain marketability. This goes hand in hand with résumé building, but it’s easier to market yourself if you have experience. Your résumé will speak for itself when you apply to a job, but you can express so much more in an interview than you can share on a single piece of paper. Marketability isn’t just useful in a job interview, though. It encompasses word of mouth, too. If you’re at an event, and mention that you’re skilled in a particular software, that information could find it’s way to a hiring manager or CEO. You never know what people are listening to and will pass along. Marketing yourself as a veteran worker with a particular skillset is going to make you more appealing than the less experienced competition.
  • You could be offered a job. Your internship may result in a full-time offer of employment from the same company. It won’t happen every time, but if you work hard, prove to be a fast learner, and are invested in your internship, a hiring manager might notice. According to the 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, “ the average offer rate to interns is 72.7 percent, the highest it has been since the peak of the pre-recession market.”
  • You will know what to expect after graduation. By completing an internship, you get a taste of the “real world.” You will leave college knowing what it’s like to work a nine-to-five job, what to wear for a corporate position, and how to successfully navigate rush-hour traffic. This will give you a leg up when you start your first post-graduation position.

What are the drawbacks of completing an internship?

  • You may not get paid. Internships are not required to be paid, provided that six criteria as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act are met. One of the criteria is the understanding that an internship does not guarantee a job at its finish. Depending on the internship, (where it is, if you’ll be able to live at home, what type of transportation is required, etc.), you may actually lose money over the duration of the job.
  • Unpaid internships may not help you find a job. Despite the résumé boost that comes from completing an internship of any kind, the statistics are showing that students who completed an unpaid internship were only 1.8% more likely to receive job offers by the spring semester of their senior years than students who did not complete any internships. Additionally, they were only about half as likely to receive an offer of employment as those who completed paid internships. The salaries offered to students who completed unpaid internships were less than the salaries offered to students who never completed an internship.
    • That being said, just 36% of paid interns received a job offer immediately after the completion of their internships, and only 63% (as of 2012) received an offer by the spring of senior year. These statistics show that an internship, whether paid or unpaid, does not guarantee a job at the end.
  • You may do menial tasks. Depending on your internship, you could get stuck doing office errands, like making photocopies, delivering coffee, addressing and stamping outgoing mail, or drafting reports. This is because being an intern doesn’t involve much training, and simple tasks are the easiest to learn. The job may not be interesting or what you expected. If you stick with it though, you may be able to intern with the same company again and work on slightly less menial tasks.
  • Internships could prevent you from entering the workforce. Just like the people who never stop expanding their education by getting degree after degree, there are people who never actually enter the workforce and perform internship after internship. It’s easy to get caught in the cycle; students are more qualified for internships than “real jobs,” and may continually apply to internships after experiencing rejection from the workforce. The problem is, though, that completing multiple short-term internships without gaining workforce experience can make you less marketable over time. Be careful of falling into the internship trap.

Page last updated: 09/2017