Questions Answered: What is an internship and why should I want one?

internsQuestion: I know this is dumb question but I dont understand what is internship? All my friends want to get internship and everyone know what is it. Am feel very stupid to ask anyone. I had part time job work in bookstore to help pay tuitions but is it same to internship? Do I need internship for my career? Thank you to your help to me it will be hard to ask my profs or friends. ~ Tatya Z., New York, NY

Answer: I am really glad that you asked this question, Tatya. Although it may seem as though all of your friends know what internships are, you are not alone in wanting some clarification. Many students and employers still have some confusion about what internships are and how they are different from other types of employment or from volunteer activities. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE),

Internships are typically one-time work or service experiences related to the student’s major or career goal. The internship plan generally involves students working in professional settings under the supervision and monitoring of practicing professionals. Internships can be paid or unpaid and the student may or may not receive academic credit for performing the internship. (Note: The issue of pay is dictated by the Fair Labor Standards Act.)

An internship is intended to be an intentional learning opportunity that would give you the chance to gain practical experience in your field while under the supervision of a professional within that field. This is different than, for example, your part time job at the bookstore because, while you may have learned many things, what you learned was not necessarily intentional. Moreover, your manager was not necessarily supervising you with the intent of helping you enter the fields of retail, book publishing, or purchasing.

There are many reasons that internships are so valuable.  Aside from getting you practical experience, internships help you to test out a field while you are still a student and they give you the opportunity to begin networking with professionals in your field. Employers generally look quite favorably on applicants who have related internship experience. For example, a recent survey from NACE showed that employers made offers of full-time employment to 64.8 percent of their interns.

Please have a look through our Internship Basics articles where we answer questions like, Can I get paid?, When should I intern?, and Can I intern in the United States if I’m an international student?

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