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The topic of internships (e.g. for profit vs. non-profit sector, paid vs. unpaid, and academic credit eligibility) continues to surface in the media. Career Planning & Resources at Scripps College uses the definition and terms provided by the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE).

An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths, and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.

Legal considerations of unpaid US-based internships are addressed in the criteria set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the employer's facilities, is similar to training that would be given in a vocational school.
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the student.
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under the close observation of a regular employee.
  4. The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. 
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time in the internship. 

Sharing a common definition helps establish consistency across fields and safeguard students as much as possible. Career Planning & Resources at Scripps College endorses the criteria provided by NACE for an experience to be defined as an internship. 

  1. 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 simple to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform. 
  2. The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
  3. The experience has a defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.
  4. There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student's academic coursework.
  5. There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of experience.
  6. There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.
  7. There are resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals. 

Read NACE's position statement on unpaid Internships. If you are working with or advising students on the issue of internships and have additional questions, please contact Career Planning & Resources at (909) 621-8180 or

August 2011