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Internships Defined: What is (and isn’t) an internship?

An internship is a limited-duration, supervised, learning experience in a professional environment.  The work a student performs as an intern is educational and intended to reinforce their academic training.   

Internships may be paid or unpaid depending upon the employer (e.g.: private or public sector).  In either case, the student experience is equivalent to vocational training, and if desired by the student, would be approved for academic credit through a faculty member from the department associated with the student’s major area of study.

The following are specific examples of positions that would not qualify as internships:

  • Commission-only sales positions
  • Situations in which all of the work is unpaid and is done remotely or virtually without supervision or regular interaction with a professional
  • Unpaid positions that require cold-calling, petitioning, or canvassing
  • "Independent contractor" relationships that require the intern to set up his/her own business for the purpose of selling products, services, and/or recruiting other individuals to set up their own business.
  • Positions in which the student is required to pay the employer for any part of the experience 
  • *Volunteer positions that do not specifically emphasize an educational component (*Some volunteer positions may qualify as internships if approved and guided by designated PSU staff or faculty).

Please note the following:

 Guidelines for Unpaid Internships with For-Profit Employers:

  • An internship is highly educational and will primarily benefit the Intern
  • Learning objectives are established with the intern before beginning the internship and are revisited regularly to ensure ongoing objectives are being met
  • An intern is supervised and mentored throughout the internship experience
  • An unpaid intern is not a consultant or on-site expert for any project or task that your professional staff is not able to perform (e.g. create a website, write a grant, develop a marketing campaign) 
  • An unpaid intern should not displace a paid employee
  • The employer derives no immediate financial advantage from the unpaid intern (i.e. no selling)
  • No more than 30% of the unpaid intern's time should be spent on clerical or repetitive tasks
  • The internship is a substantial learning experience, such that a faculty member would approve the internship as worthy of academic credit
  • Unpaid/non-credit internships are limited to one academic term or approximately 12 weeks