How can I determine if my job will qualify as an internship?

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intern1-1024x645Chris from the University of North Florida asked:

How can I determine if a job I currently hold will qualify as an internship at my university?  I currently have two jobs; one is related to my major, and I am referred to as an intern. 

Hi Chris

This is a very important question!

Employers expect students to have experience along with a degree, and internships are an important way to get that experience.  But what exactly is an internship and who decides whether or not you can receive college credit for it?  There is a lot of gray area here, but I do have some advice.

It’s about getting experience, not getting internships

Sure, internships are a great way to get experience, but they are not the only way.  Getting experience is the important thing, whether that experience comes from a job, an internship or a volunteer activity.  Unless you have to, don’t get hung up on what the experience is called.  Rather, focus on the quality of the experience and how it is helping you hone marketable skills and practical knowledge.

Unless completing an internship is a course requirement or the internship is unpaid, you really don’t need to worry about what they call you.  Just enjoy the fact that you have a paid gig that is helping you become a more competitive candidte for future jobs.

Now, I am going to assume that you are asking the question because you need or want to get academic credit for an internship.  So …

What is an internship?

In 2011, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) published a Position Statement on U.S. Internships, including a definition and criteria for internships.  According to the NACE Definition:

An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.

To ensure that an experience—whether it is a traditional internship or one conducted remotely or virtually—is educational, and thus eligible to be considered a legitimate internship by the NACE definition, all the following criteria must be met:

  • The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
  • The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
  • The experience has a defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.
  • There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.
  • There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.
  • There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.
  • There are resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.

If these criteria are followed, it is the opinion of NACE that the experience can be considered a legitimate internship. So the first question you must ask is: Does your job meet the definition and criteria listed above?  If it doesn’t, you probalby won’t be able to get academic credit for the internship.  If it does, you may be able to get academic credit for it.

Who makes the call?

Typically, the decision as to whether or not you can get academic credit for an intership will be made my someone at your university.  It may be  faculty member in your home department or the college or school within which it resides.  It may be an internship coordinator in your career center.  It may be a Dean.  Check with your academic advisor and your career center to find out who makes those decisions at your university.

Just because one academic department at your university will approve an internship for credit doesn’t mean that that every academic department at your university will.  Just because one university approved an internship for your friend doesn’t mean that your university will approve that same internship for you.

Only your university can tell you what it will accept, so ask the right questions of the right people at your university.

Good luck!


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