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Internships 101 Workshop

Want an internship, but are not sure where to start? We offer a workshop called  Internships 101, designed to help you get started on your internship search. Learn what you need to consider when getting started on your internship search in a small group format. For dates and times for Internships 101, see our events calendar.  

The video below is a condensed version of the hour long workshop, and we encourage you to use this worksheet alongside the video to help you get started on your internship search:

What Is an Internship?

Internships are work experiences that allow you to gain practical skills and knowledge in a specific career field. Internships at JMU can be paid or unpaid, for academic credit or no credit. They can take place at any point in the semester, but are most often completed during the summer. Internships can serve as great experience to supplement what you're learning in the classroom! Internships are considered  experiential education, along with externships, shadowing, and volunteering; all of which give you a way to experience a career field first hand and see if it's for you.

Career & Academic Planning supports the  NACE Standards on internships. These standards state that an internship should meet these criteria:

  • 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. 

Internship vs. Externship

Externships are similar to internships in that they provide a professional setting for students to gain valuable insight into a specific career field. Participating in an externship can be similar to job shadowing or students may have projects to complete during their experience. Externships are short in duration and are unpaid. Externships can be for just one day, a few days or for a week, allowing students to easily complete externships over a winter or spring break.

As with any term or experience, externships might also have varying requirements and/or definitions in different fields. For example, in the field of Nursing it is common for long-term summer experiences to be called “externships” and these are more similar to traditional internships. Consider talking to faculty and employers in your fields of interest to learn more about the kinds of experiences and language typically used.

Externships provide great glimpses into what a career field is like, however they  do not provide the same extensive, hands-on work experience as internships. Some companies use their externship program to seek out future interns.  Therefore, externships can lead to internships within the same company, so externship students should approach these opportunities with the same amount of professionalism and commitment they would demonstrate with an internship.

Not sure if an externship is for you? There are  other ways to gain experience and learn about a career field, including volunteering, job shadowing, part time employment, and more.

Academic Credit

Internships are encouraged in all majors at JMU, and some majors require internships for academic credit for graduation. 

Some academic departments have  internship coordinators who provide approval for students to receive credit for experiences they have acquired. Internships for academic credit have to be set up in advance with the student’s academic department, and must follow specific guidelines. If you are pursuing an internship for academic credit, you have to pay for the credit hours you are obtaining. See the  Summer Tuition and Fees page for more information.  This is especially important if your major requires you to pursue academic credit for your internship or if you are interested in working at a company that requires interns to obtain academic credit for unpaid internships. Otherwise, you are welcome to complete the internship without requesting academic credit.

To earn academic credit for an internship, the experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. The number of hours required to complete an internship for academic credit may vary by department, and some departments might not offer credit for internships in their program. A student’s first step should be to contact the  internship coordinator within their major program for the guidelines that would allow them to complete an internship for academic credit, if that is an option. 


For a list of student housing opportunities in several major cities of the U.S., see our Internship Housing page.

Some companies will assist you with housing options in the geographic area of the internship. For example, some companies have employees who may rent out rooms in their houses for student interns. Other companies help coordinate students so you can room with other interns and save money. There are some companies that provide housing for their student interns. If you are interning in a city with a college, consider contacting the university housing office. Some universities and colleges allow students to live on campus for the summer for a much lower cost than an apartment lease. 

Paid or Unpaid?

In Career & Academic Planning we encourage employers to offer students paid internships, however some government and non-profit organizations routinely offer unpaid internships only. Unpaid internships still provide great learning experiences and can help you build up your resume. An employer doesn't mind if you were paid or not, they just want you to have relevant experience. You can work another job while pursuing your unpaid internship to help pay your bills, save up for your college expenses, etc. If you are working in an unpaid internship, consider working perhaps 20 hours a week or less and then you can work a paying job the remainder of the time so you are still able to save up funds for the future. If you choose to work in an unpaid internship, make sure the internship employer is following these guidelines, as established in the  Fair Labor Standards Act

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern ; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Searching for Internships

Personal introspection and reflection is a good first step to identifying the type of internship that would be best for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your industries/fields of interest (e.g. education, healthcare, human services, marketing)?
  • What functions you want to do (e.g. sales, human resources, research, social media)
  • What careers are you hoping to pursue after graduation?
  • What kinds of skills do you want to gain or enhance? What kind of skills do you already have?
  • Do you have any specific employers/organizations you are targeting, if so, who are they?
  • Where do you want to go geographically (what kind of geographic parameters shape your search)?

Here are a few tips to get you started on your internship search. Your field or area of interest will determine which of the following is the best place to start:

  • Visit our  Internships and Summer Jobs page .
  • Visit our  Find a Job or Internship page .
  • Look on  Handshake  for internship openings
  • Look on  Vault  for popular internship programs nationwide, as well as reviews of companies by former interns.
  • Attend Career Fairs to explore opportunities and meet organization representatives. Many organizations attend Career Fairs to specifically look for interns. Take the opportunity to learn which organizations are attending, research them and meet their representatives at the fair. If an organization isn’t specifically looking to hire interns it is still worthwhile to meet the representatives to learn more about the organization and network with their employees. Learn more about JMU's yearly  Career Fairs.
  • Talk with the  internship coordinator  for your department (if your department has one).
  • Talk with your advisor and faculty from your academic programs (major, minor, pre-professional programs). Tell them about your interests, desires, plans and inquire about past students’ experiences, contacts with employers and more.
  • Talk with other students and alumni from your academic programs. Ask about their experiences, strategies that worked and possible organizations or employers. Hearing what other students have learned and experienced is a great way to help you identify possibilities.  

Stand Out from the Crowd

Employers that we polled provided this advice, about how students can be most competitive when applying for internships:

  • Know and highlight your strengths (on your resume and in person).
  • Make sure to include relevant classes and technical skills on your resume.
  • Always research companies prior to interviews and be prepared to ask questions.
  • Be open to different opportunities or working your way up.
  • Start the application process early.
  • Try to demonstrate strong communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Send “thank you” correspondence after interviews and always follow through when an employer emails or calls.
  • Research and be realistic about pay rates for internships and differences in cost of living from city to city.
  • You can stand out if you exhibit a genuine interest in what the company does.
  • If you've had experience overseas, visit our  Market Your International Experience page to explore how to best communicate your experience in an interview or resume.

Succeed at Your Internship

Know what to expect from your internship

  • Clarify expectations and ask questions if you are unsure about anything

Observe others and ask questions

  • Learn from your co-workers
  • Ask for feedback and advice

Make connections with supervisors, other interns and colleagues at your place of work

  • Say thank you, it’s the little things you do that will make you stand out and be remembered
  • Stay in touch with supervisors, colleagues and other networking connections you made during your internship

Be professional

  • Make sure your attire matches the company culture and if you are unsure, ask your supervisor or mentor
  • Be professional in your verbal and non-verbal communication as well as in written correspondence

Have a positive and willing attitude

  • Accept assignments without complaint
  • Offer to help out with whatever tasks need attention
  • Turn in quality work
  • Be a team player

Gain trust early on

  • Be punctual, reliable and dependable
  • Establish good relationships with your co-workers

Take your work seriously

  • Stay focused at work and avoid discussing inappropriate topics at work
  • Take advantage of brown bag lunch discussions, mentor programs or other resources the employer offers. This shows interest in the company and field and will allow you to learn from others.

Reflect on Your Experience

It's important to spend some time after your internship to reflect on your experience, what you learned, and what you will take going forward.  Click on the diagrams below as a guide for reflecting at each stage of the process. 

This short video describes the reflection process using the reflection worksheet.  

Internship Reflection       Internship Reflection Worksheet

Tell Us About Your Internship

Proud of your internship? Tell us about it by updating your Handshake Profile! We really want to know about your campus involvements, internship, jobs, and other career-related experiences, past and future!  We keep your information completely confidential, and only use the names of internship sites and other information separate from your identity.

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