Internships are an essential way for your student to gain experience and skills in today’s competitive employment marketplace. Not only do most college programs require at least one internship for a student to graduate, but also many entry-level jobs require internship experience to apply (and employers want candidates who have that experience under their belt!).

There are several types of internships for students to consider when looking for an opportunity. What’s the difference, and which one is right for your child?


Paid internships can be hard to come by in some industries and obviously can be highly sought after, depending on the opportunity. It’s important to remember that just because it’s paid doesn’t mean it’s the right opportunity for your child. As I’ve said before, pay doesn’t always equate to the experience you will receive. In fact, I would argue that it doesn’t correlate most of the time. As you’ve probably experienced, the highest paid jobs are not always the best ones, and the same goes for internship opportunities.


Unpaid internships are quite common for today’s college students, but that doesn’t mean that every opportunity is equal. I often tell students and recent graduates that they should not accept a full-time unpaid internship (I believe that full-time opportunities should be paid, but some employers still offer them). However, part-time opportunities can be a beneficial way to gain valuable skills and experience prior to graduation. Plus, it still leaves time to continue taking classes or find a part-time paid job on the side.  


For-credit internships are for college students who need internship credits for their program (or elective credits for graduation). Many employers offer internship opportunities as for-credit only, while others offer it as an option in exchange for the candidate’s time spent on the job. Students usually have to pay for the credits, so if money is a concern, your student may want to intern during the fall or spring semester when student loans can help out with the cost of an internship.


Federal work-study is a form of financial aid given to students who demonstrate financial need based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If your child is eligible, work-study will be indicated as part of their financial aid reward, as long as they have indicated their interest on the FAFSA application. Students who qualify for work-study can work in fields related to their major, on-campus or off-campus, and often make at least minimum wage. Employers will work around their school schedules, and hours depend on the student’s schedule and any limits the school may set on amount of hours a student can work per week. There are also non-federal work-study opportunities available (not based on financial need), which vary depending on the college or university your child is attending.

The specific type of an internship opportunity will certainly influence your child’s decision whether to pursue it or not. Keep in mind, however, that there are other important factors to consider, such as:

  • Mentorship. Interns should have a supervisor who mentors them throughout the internship period and provides the necessary training and skill-building to do the job correctly.
  • Culture. The company culture should be a big factor in choosing an internship. But just because it’s a “big name” company does not mean the opportunity will be beneficial—small businesses, startups and nonprofits have internship programs too, and might actually be a better fit than a “big name” company would be for your student.  
  • Meaningful work. Unfortunately, there are some internship programs out there that don’t assign meaningful tasks to their interns. Help your student look for opportunities that clearly focus on skill building and learning about the industry to maximize their experience.


Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and/or employers. She is also the author of #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010) and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.

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