What is an internship?

Internships: what are they?

Opportunities to learn outside the classroom are a critical component of a college education. Internships provide a powerful mechanism for students to learn and for employers to guide and evaluate future talent. It’s important that experiences labeled “internships” share some common features. Below you’ll find information about the essential conditions for successful internships, based on guidelines produced by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

What is an internship?


  • Are experiential learning opportunities that take place in workplace environments
  • Integrate academic learning with practical “hand-on” experience
  • Develop or refine professional skills
  • Explore a career interest
  • Typically last at least one academic quarter

What are the essential components?

An internship must be a learning experience:

  • It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform
  • There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the student’s academic and/or professional goals
  • The knowledge or skills learned are generally transferable to other employment settings
  • There is intentional onboarding, ongoing supervision, and frequent feedback by an experienced supervisor who models professional and ethical behavior

Additional requirements:

  • An internship should have a position description with desired qualifications
  • The resources, equipment, and facilities necessary to support the learning goals should be provided by the employer

Adapted from UW Seattle’s Career & Internship Resources