Internship Expectations: What an Internship Is and Is Not

An Internship Is...

An internship is an experiential academic experience in which a student has intentional learning goals/objectives with measurable outcomes. These learning goals/objectives may include:

  • Academic Learning: the student may apply and test knowledge learned in the classroom to a professional work environment.

  • Career Development: the student may explore a specific field of interest, expand his or her professional network and gain and understanding of the qualifications and duties involved in a specific profession or career field.

  • Skill Development: the student gains an understanding of the transferable skills and knowledge required for success in a professional work environment and integrates those skills in their academic learning.

  • Personal Development: the student gains decision-making skills, self-confidence, business savvy, ethics, and teamwork required for success in a professional work environment.

An internship is designed as an exchange. The student agrees to complete work that will benefit the host organization and in return is offered the opportunity to learn new skills, expand his or her knowledge of a particular field and explore career options. Employers offer internships for many reasons. They see student interns as fruitful and economical resources with which they can accomplish projects not otherwise possible. They believe interns bring enthusiasm and new ideas into work settings and make strong employees. Just as importantly, employers feel an increasing commitment to education and want to help train students to assume responsible roles in society.

An Internship Is Not...

During your internship and/or co-op search, we recommend that you maintain realistic expectations in regard to your internship and/or co-op experience. The following is a list of things an internship is not:

  • A Guarantee Job Offer: Although some interns are offered part-time or full-time employment as a result of contacts they make during their internships, there is no guarantee that an internship will result in a job. The best way for students to gain career and job advantages during an internship is by building information and referral networks.

  • A Go-fer Position: A fine balance must be cultivated between ensuring the student has a meaningful learning experience and addressing the completion of more routine work responsibilities involved in all positions and projects. A good rule of thumb would be that 60% of the internship responsibilities are professional and 40% of the internship responsibilities are paraprofessional or part of daily operational routine.

  • An Easy Grade: A supervisor expects an intern to be a contributing member to the organization, just like an employee. Most students report working just as hard, if not harder, with an internship position as they do for other academic courses.

  • Time to Act Like a Resident Expert: Most students do not have the time, expertise, or knowledge of the organization to tackle self-initiated projects. This is an opportunity to test prior learning in a humble and tactful way. Application can be done only if the intern remembers his or her role and purpose.

Finally, remember that your number one priority as a student is to get a good education. Work education programs were designed with this primary purpose in mind. All have the fundamental goal of paving students' road toward personal growth and a productive career. If you take practical learning opportunities seriously and do your part to help yourself, you will be regarded in many ways, especially at graduation time. It is up to you.

Adapted from the University of Evansville School of Business Administration's Internship and Co-op Information and Westminster College's 2003-2004 Student Guide to Internships

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