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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: Internships 101 2018 | JMU UCC

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, and some offer academic credit. They can take place at any point in the semester, but are most often completed during the summer. Internships can serve as a great experience to supplement what you're learning in the classroom! Internships, along with externships, shadowing, and volunteering, are considered experiential education, 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, or a learning experience that applies the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be to simply advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
  • Teach skills or knowledge that can be transferable to other employment settings.
  • Have a defined beginning and end, as well as a job description with desired qualifications.
  • Define learning objectives and goals related to the professional aims of the student’s academic coursework clearly.  
  • Be supervised by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.
  • Provide routine feedback from the experienced supervisor.  
  • Supply the resources, equipment, and facilities through the host employer that support learning objectives/goals. 
Internship vs. Externship

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

As with any term or experience, externships may have varying requirements and/or definitions depending on the fields of study. For example, in nursing, it is common for long-term summer experiences to be called “externships” and appear closer 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, which means that externships can lead to internships within the same company. You should approach these opportunities with the same amount of professionalism and commitment as you would 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, and part-time employment.

Academic Credit

Internships are encouraged for 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 your academic department, and must follow specific guidelines. If you are pursuing an internship for academic credit, you will 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, or 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. Your first step should be to contact the internship coordinator within your major program for the guidelines that would allow you to complete an internship for academic credit, if it is an option. 


There is a possibility that your internship may require you to relocate for the period of your internship.

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. 

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

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 will not care 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 in an unpaid internship, consider working 20 hours a week or less and staying employed in 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 experience must:

  • Be similar to training which would be given in an educational environment, even though it includes the actual operation of the facilities of the employer.
  • Be for the benefit of the intern.
  • Not allow the intern to not displace regular employees, but allow them to work under close supervision of existing staff.
  • Provide 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
  • Understand that they are not entitled to wages for the first 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?
  • Who are the specific employers/organizations you are targeting?
  • 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
  • Attend Career Fairs to explore opportunities and meet representatives from diverse organizations. Many companies 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. Follow this page to learn more about JMU's yearly Career Fairs.
  • Talk with the internship coordinator for your department.
  • Talk with your advisor and faculty from your academic programs (major, minor, pre-professional programs). Tell them about your interests, desires, and plans. 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- as to how students can be competitive when applying for internships:

  • Know and highlight your strengths (on your resume and in person).
  • Include relevant classes and technical skills on your resume.
  • Research companies prior to interviews and be prepared to ask questions.
  • Be prepared to be asked questions about the organization.
  • Be open to different opportunities or working your way up.
  • Start the application process early.
  • 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.
  • Exhibit a genuine interest in what the company does- this helps you stand out.
  • 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 the networking connections you made during your internship

Be professional

  • Make sure your attire matches the company culture. If you are unsure, ask your supervisor
  • 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, and other resources the employer offers in order to show interest in the company and 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 with you moving 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.  

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