Internship 101: Paid, Non-Paid, For-Credit Internships Explained

Employers who hire interns often have questions when it comes to university credit, pay, work hours, supervision and job duties. When YouTern asked me to address these questions and provide employers with some answers, I was thrilled to assist.

Below is a description of the types of internship options available to students, the pros and cons of each option, my opinions on which options are best and my recommendations for how to make the process run as smoothly as possible.

Option 1: Internship for Credit

One credit is usually equal to about 40 hours of work so a typical internship is usually 3 credits for 120 work hours for a full semester. The student is responsible for contacting his/her college adviser or intern coordinator who will register the student for course credit. This is done completely on the college end and, like any other credit bearing course, the student will have a college instructor who provides a syllabus and assignments throughout the internship period.

Again, the student is responsible for all assignment deadlines and, if the employer is expected to be a part of any course assignment, the student must inform the employer of all deadlines and expectations for participation. The employer’s responsibility is to provide a relevant professional experience, a nice dose of mentoring and educational feedback to assist the student as he/she completes the internship experience.

Pros: The student is guaranteed an educational component because there is a syllabus and course assignments attached to the actual internship experience. The student is also experiencing the professional development of being in an actual work environment. Plus, the student has an advocate on the college side to help monitor any work issues that may arise during the internship experience.

Cons: Some colleges may not offer credit courses for internships. If this is the case, the student will simply not be able to earn credit for the internship experience and may not gain as much of an educational component.

Recommendations: In my professional opinion, credit bearing internships are the way to go for both student and employer. The description of a strong internship experience involves a good mix of education and professional development experience and this option provides both. I recommend that employers add a comment on their internship description encouraging students to establish credit for the internship. Employers can also require students to register for credit in order to be hired for an internship experience. A contract can be sent to the course instructor for signature and confirmation that the student is registered for credit.

Option 2: Internship for Pay

This option can run like a typical part time or full time position. The student works an agreed upon number of hours per week, job duties are assigned and the student receives a paycheck during the internship time period.

Pros: The student gets a pay check for work done.

Cons: If the employer wants to define this work experience as an internship, he/she holds all the responsibility for offering a relevant professional experience, a nice dose of mentoring and educational feedback to assist the student as he/she transitions from student to professional.  Without a syllabus monitored from a college instructor, there is no guarantee that the student is getting a true internship experience or advocate if issues arise.

Option 3: Internship for Both Credit and Pay

This option is the best of both worlds. A strong educational component with credit attached and a pay check that is icing on the cake. I don’t see how either party can go wrong with this option.

Option 4: Internship for Neither Credit nor Pay

This option has WTF written all over it.

Pros: I’m pushing it by saying the student MIGHT obtain a professional experience.

Cons: This option puts all responsibility on the employer to offer a relevant professional experience, however; with no college monitoring and advocacy, there is no guarantee that this will occur. Plus, I would immediately question an employer’s motives if he/she doesn’t inquire and encourage a student to obtain credit for the experience. This option may put the student at high risk of being “used or abused” in his/her intern role.

Recommendations: Perhaps you are an employer who cannot afford to pay your intern. If this is the case, do your very best to require or encourage that the student register for credit before you hire him/her. This will help keep you well monitored so that you know and the intern knows that the experience is working for both parties. (see Option 1 above)

I hope these options have helped answer questions and clarify gray area. If not, please do not hesitate to respond to this post or send questions my way. I am always happy to help and want to make certain that student and employer connections are positive and empowering for both parties.

About the Author: Elizabeth Dexter-Wilson, aka “Dr. Eliz”, is the Coordinator of Career Services at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. We’re also thrilled to acknowledge Elizabeth’s passionate and innovative support for her students, and for many others through social media. You can reach Dr. Eliz via Twitter at: @ResumeDrEliz.

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