Types of Internships: How to Choose the Best One for You

Every college-bound student is told that an internship is a great way to gain experience and potentially snag a job after college. For this reason, a lot of students apply to internships in their in their later college years. But these students are potentially missing out on a lot by waiting until the end of their college career to find an internship, and limiting themselves to only internships of a certain kind. Internships are a great way to gain experience and potentially assist you in landing your first job. They also come in a number of shapes and sizes. Finding the right one for you at the right time in your college life is extremely important. If you just grab any internship that is convenient, you may find yourself regretting your decision, feeling like you're wasting your time away, and jobless.

Finding the Right Internship For You

There are thousands of different internship opportunities you could apply to, hundreds within your field, but only a handful fit into your college career. Before you start choosing internships, it is crucial that you understand the different types of internships offered.

I’m going to break it down into four categories of qualities an internship opportunity may have, basically, these are your options:

  1. Part-Time or Full-Time
  2. Fall, Spring, or Summer
  3. Unpaid, Stipend, For Credit or Paid
  4. Administrative or Skilled

When searching for internships, you will find internships that fall into all combinations of these categories. Some types of internships will be better for you than others. Can you afford to take an unpaid internship? Are you able to commit to a full-time internship and still complete all your required courses? Find out what you really need in order to land the internship perfect for you.

Breaking Down the Types of Internships Available

1. Part-Time vs Full-Time

Part-time internships are common and are often set up through the college itself to get students required hands-on experience. They can be done concurrently with your class and sometimes count for college credit.

The benefit of a part-time internship through your school is that it won’t conflict with your classes, you can take a reduced workload, and you gain college credit for work experience. Sounds perfect, right? But there is a downside.

I did a part-time internship the spring of my junior year and would not recommend it over the full-time internships I enjoyed. I ended up spending so much time getting ready, commuting, changing back into everyday clothes that I barely had time to keep up with my classes or fit in other extracurricular activities. I felt like I was constantly running around all for three credits that could have been easily earned sitting in class. Work experience should be invaluable, but because my internship was part time I didn’t actually get to complete any challenging projects; most of my time was spent completing easy administrative tasks.

Full-time internships can be found anywhere in the world (literally). Sometimes they compensate you for your work, sometimes not. But you should leave with a more comprehensive education on what that organization does and you feel like you’ve help them towards their mission.

Full-time internships enable you to grow those relationships that will build your network to help you find a job after graduation since you're there working every day.

Of course, full-time internships require more commitment. You’ll have to clear your schedule in order to put in the required amount of time. It’s also important that you pick an internship that is aligned with you, your values and what you’re interested in. It would be terrible to work a week in your internship and realize you hate what you are doing.

2. The Season: Fall, Spring, or Summer

Summer internships are the most popular time for full-time internships, which also makes them very competitive. The summer gives you time to fully spend on the internships without fear of missing classes. However, it’s also the time of year where students often want to take a break and may not be as focused as they could be. Professional clothes also get really hot in the summer.

Fall and spring internships are a lot less competitive. Most students don’t even consider full-time internships during the school year. This means it may be the best time for you to apply for the really competitive internship you’ve been dreaming about. If the internship is really worth your time, you can always take a semester off from school and makeup for the lost time during the next few semesters or the summer.

You may also be able to use an internship as college credit, but that also means you’ll have to pay full tuition. I opted for taking a semester off to pursue an internship rather than pay tuition in order to receive college credit.  I didn’t think it was worth it, nor did I think it was right to pay my college for an experience I was getting in an office in a different part of the country.

Some major advantages of internships in the fall or the spring include the cooler weather, more motivation to impress, and taking time off of school to really focus on your experience.

3. Getting Paid in the Internship World

Do I have enough money to go out? No. Didn't think so.
Do I have enough money to go out? No. Didn't think so.

There are four different ways internships can compensate you for your work: they could be completely unpaid, you can receive some sort of stipend, you can receive college credit, or they can pay you as they would any other employee.

I have personally done three out of the four options; I’ve been unpaid twice, got credit once, and have been paid for my work once. Honestly, I got the most satisfaction out of my unpaid internships as they were the ones that aligned most with my values and career aspirations, but getting paid was necessary after the previous three internships depleted my resources.

Unfortunately, unpaid internships are the most common. They often come with a for-credit option if you choose (out of your own pocket). Depending on your field, these internships could be necessary to help propel you up the ladder, but not always.

For-credit internships have to contribute to your learning experience in order to be legal. Most include conversations with the leadership of the organization, skill-based work, or training sessions to improve your marketability.

Internships that are paid or have a stipend are often much more competitive than the unpaid ones for obvious reasons. Legally, they then can mostly treat you like an entry-level employee, but sometimes they're paid with great skills work. These internships are coveted, so you should begin building an impressive resume for the one you’d like as soon as possible.

4. Administrative vs. Skilled Internships

The last quality I think is the most important. It’s what you’ll actually be doing from day to day. Some internships are entry-level administrative work. Others pair you with upper-level employees as mini assistants and you learn the ropes to that career. The latter still involved a degree of administrative work, but the perspective and experience you receive is definitely different.

Knowing what type of work you’ll be doing at an internship is crucial when deciding if that internship is for you. I highly recommend checking to see if there are more than just administrative interns at the company. If there are and they’re job description is something you’re into, go for it! It may sound out of your reach and scary, but this makes it all of the more worth it for you. Internships are the time to jump past the entry-level tasks and see what you would be doing in that field in a couple of years down the line. Learning those skills now will help you get past entry-level faster.

Make sure you take all of these factors into consideration, as this will set you apart from other applicants. You now can evaluate internship opportunities at face value and pair qualities to uncover the perfect internship for you. This is a skill many college students are without that will also be valuable when it comes time to search for the perfect job.