What is an internship?

Internships are short-term work experiences that allow you to observe and participate in professional work environments and explore how your interests relate to possible careers. They are important learning opportunities that can help you make informed decisions about your career path. Internships are beneficial because they provide the opportunity to:

  • Get an inside view of an industry and organization/company
  • Gain valuable skills and knowledge
  • Make professional connections and enhance your network
  • Get experience in a field to allow you to make a career transition

Employers are looking for students who have gained experience through internships. Internships should provide you with a better understanding of an industry, a position, and of yourself. They should also provide you with a chance to improve your skill set and learn from those you are working with.

Types of Internships

Internships can vary from industry to industry and from one organization to another. Interns typically have an opportunity to work at an organization for a selected number of hours per week over a finite period of time. They can vary in intensity, work style, and compensation. Internships are available during the summer as well as the academic year.

Internships can be a valuable opportunity to explore a career interest, develop skills, and gain experience. It is up to you to make the most of the internship by learning as much as you can, asking questions and making contacts. When considering an internship, focus on the skills you will learn and the experiences you will have, not on the company name.

Finding an Internship

In general, there are three different ways you can find an internship:

  • Advertised opportunities are those that are posted. These are often posted in the same places, such as company websites, job boards, and other job posting systems. Many advertised internships are a part of established internship programs that offer additional support and learning opportunities.
  • Hidden opportunities are not advertised. They are often found in newer and/or smaller companies. Hidden opportunities are primarily identified through networking with friends, family members, former employers, classmates, and other personal contacts.
  • Self-created opportunities are created by the intern and the employer together. Often, a student will approach an organization in which they are interested in working and propose a project or simply offer their skills. This is a great way to intern for a company that does not normally hire interns or does not have an established internship program. 

An effective internship search will involve applying to advertised opportunities as well as networking to find hidden opportunities. Keep in mind that there are many resources for finding an internship, so do not limit yourself to only one website or networking contact. A good place to start is LionSHARE, CCE’s on-campus recruiting platform and job posting site. Explore our industry-specific resources for a variety of industries, as well as our information on international opportunities. Additionally, CCE provides internship programs that go on throughout the year in a wide variety of industries. 

Internship Timelines

It is important to become familiar with the recruiting cycles in your target industry. Many industries recruit at different times throughout the year. You will want to give yourself plenty of time to apply because the application process can be time consuming.

Many organizations, including some government agencies and large media companies (and virtually all financial services and consulting firms), conduct their recruiting well in advance of their start dates. Meanwhile, others hire on an as-needed basis, usually 2-3 months in advance. Generally, the less structured the internship, the more the company will hire as needed and on a rolling basis.

Remember that internships are available throughout the year. Make sure to fill out your LionSHARE profile to get the most up-to-date information.

Unpaid Internships

Columbia University expects companies to appropriately compensate students for the work that they perform during an internship. We expect that all employers abide by the standards established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

When conducting an internship search, students need to make themselves aware of the FLSA. This includes the specific criteria for unpaid internships at for-profit companies as outlined by the U.S. Department of Labor. If any of these criteria are not met, the intern must be paid.

Additionally, for employers seeking interns to work in the State of New York, strict attention must also be paid to the requirements set forth by the New York State Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders

Not-for-Profit organizations seeking to hire interns in the State of New York are also required to review and adhere to the guidelines set forth by the New York State Department of Labor

Academic Credit as a component of unpaid internships
An employer may request that students receive academic credit for their internship. Please be aware that the decision to award academic credit is based on the policies of the school at which the student is enrolled. Academic credit should not replace compensation for work performed during an internship.

Frequently Asked Questions about Internships

Can I get academic credit for my internship?

The decision to award academic credit is based on the policies of the school at which the student is enrolled. Academic credit should not replace compensation for work performed during an internship.

Are there internship opportunities for First and Second-year students?

Although many employers are looking for juniors and seniors, there are opportunities available for first and second year students, including some CU sponsored programs. Using general search engines will be a good starting point. It is also important to consider sources beyond on-campus recruiting for internship positions, such as volunteer and community activities, research for professors, and part-time positions.

What should I expect from an internship?

Expect to gain a greater understanding of the organization and industry through direct participation in its mission. Don’t be surprised if the internship also includes general administrative work and office assistance. Successful interns demonstrate that they’re team players and willing to contribute to an organization in any and all capacities. Interns are encouraged to remember that it’s their responsibility to get the most out of the internship experience. Meet with a career counselor to learn how to maximize your internship experience.