How Long Are Internships?

How Long Are Internships

The right internship program can offer heaps of rewards for both parties. On the student’s side, it’s a fantastic opportunity to gain experience, expand their professional network, and increase their employability. For the employer, internships are an effective way to grow their organization’s talent pipeline, build tomorrow’s workforce, and make valuable connections with the local community and university.

But whether you’re a student seeking internships or an employer wishing to set up an internship program, chances are, you both have the same question: How long are internships? The truth is that there is no straight answer to the question. It depends on a few different factors. Read on to find out how long internships usually last and why the duration of the internship matters.

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How Long Are Internships? Different Factors at Play

Internships are job training programs that are usually completed in 10 to 12 weeks, or the duration of an academic semester. However, internships can last anywhere from a few weeks to an entire year, depending on the following factors:

  • Goals – What is the purpose of the internship? If the goal is to introduce the student to a specific field or industry, the duration of the internship may be relatively short. If the student already has real-world experience in the field and hopes to gain in-depth skills, a longer internship may be a better option. 
  • Budget – Another factor that will determine the duration of an internship program is the organization’s budget. Paid internships, although beneficial to both parties, can be costly for the employer and, therefore, must be carefully budgeted.
  • Cost for the Student – On the flip side, unpaid internships can be expensive for the intern. A broke college student may not be able to participate in an unpaid internship program for longer than a few weeks. 

Related: Do Interns Get Paid?

  • Student Schedule – Unless the student has recently graduated, they will need to find an internship that works with their school schedule. For this reason, remote internships and summer internships are both popular options for busy students. Some internships may take place over the winter or spring break, generally lasting two to three weeks.

Types of Internships and Their Durations

Career-related experiences go by many names. In addition to internships, here are some common terms for career-related experiences and their durations:

Paid internships

  • Paid Internships – Money isn’t the only difference between paid and unpaid internships. Paid internships are held to less strict standards compared to unpaid internships and are generally more likely to be eligible for college credit. As a result, it’s not uncommon for paid internships to last longer than six months. 
  • Unpaid Internships – An unpaid internship demands more scrutiny, especially if the internship lasts longer than six months. Unpaid internships that last too long (more than a few months) are a red flag for students and could potentially be illegal, according to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines. The typical duration of an unpaid internship is about 10 to 12 weeks. 
  • Cooperative Education (Co-op) – A cooperative education, or co-op internship, is a form of experiential learning which combines classroom instruction with real-life work experience. Co-op internships are paid opportunities that usually span several semesters, with students alternating between work and academic study. Students should consider a co-op if they’re confident in their chosen major and wish to gain in-depth skills in their field.
  • Externships – An externship is a short-term job training program that lasts anywhere from a single day to six weeks and is usually held over the student’s winter or spring break. This type of career-related experience is meant to help trainees explore career interests and opportunities.

Related: Externship vs. Internship

  • Internship Abroad Program – An internship abroad program is an exciting opportunity that allows students to gain career-related experience someplace other than their home country. Most internship abroad programs last two months and take place over the summer and winter breaks. These experiences are usually unpaid, with students relying on local fundraising and college scholarships to reduce the financial burden.

career-related experiences

The Takeaway

So, how long do internships last? It mostly comes down to the needs of the student and the employer. If you’re a student, consider opting for a mix of career-related experiences to jazz up your resume. Be sure to weigh each opportunity carefully before accepting an offer. And if you suspect that your internship is illegal, consider filing a complaint with the DOL.

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