Fellowship vs. Internship: Which Is Right for Your Company?

Fellowship vs. Internship: Which Is Right for Your Company?

by | Feb 26, 2020 | Internships

Many businesses want to tap into the talent pool of recent graduates or current college students. For those looking to do this, the terms “fellowship” and “internship” may seem the same. In reality, though, fellowships and internships provide two unique experiences, with specific advantages to each.

So, why is it that these two different experiences are often confused?

Fellowship programs and internship programs do have a great deal in common, so it’s not surprising that the phrases are sometimes used interchangeably. To understand the similarities — and the differences — between the two, let’s take a look at a fellowship vs. internship.

Similarities Between Fellowship Programs and Internship ProgramsFellowship vs. Internship: Young woman in graduation cap and gown

Both internships and fellowships are educational work experiences an employer provides. Their exact structure differs, but at the basic level, these two types of programs are relatively similar.

The goal of both is to provide young people with valuable experience in a particular field. Participants go into both knowing how long the program will last and what they can expect from it in terms of commitment and compensation.

Employers that host fellowship programs or internship programs can include academic institutions, large businesses, law practices, or even small entrepreneurs. Neither program typically comes with the guarantee of a job upon completion, but sometimes successful participants earn job offers.

Fellowship vs. Internship: 4 Factors to ConsiderFellowship vs. Internship: Woman in science lab

Because they’re so similar on the surface, it’s understandable that there would be some confusion regarding how these programs differ. What exactly is it that differentiates a fellowship vs. internship? Here are four defining factors that set these unique opportunities apart.

1. Academic or Professional Development vs. Work Experience

The specific program goals and program experience go a long way towards setting an internship and a fellowship apart.

A fellowship program usually focuses on academic research or professional development.

Fellows often propose the focus of their fellowship during the application period. These self-designed projects then allow fellows to further an academic or professional goal. Fellowships focus on building relevant knowledge or experience in the field, particularly in highly specialized areas.

Fellowships are not specifically designed to provide entry-level work experience. There is very little busy work like operating the copy machine or sorting mail. Instead, participants have a lot of autonomy to create their own schedule, working hours, and specific project focus. Fellowships can be thought of as the opportunity to pursue something truly exceptional.

An internship program, on the other hand, usually provides more practical work experience in an area of career interest. Students start the application process knowing the expected hours and work, which sometimes includes things like making copies or sorting mail.

Internships tend to be less competitive than fellowships, though there is still an application process that candidates need to take seriously. Interns aim to work their way up in the field. They apply for the program with the expectation that they will gain hands-on experience in their chosen field, and the understanding that they will work hard to achieve it.

In short, an internship program helps interns gain experience in their field of interest, getting a foot in the door. This means they are involved in authentic, entry-level work. In addition to some of the more mundane tasks they may be assigned, interns will also learn the hard skills necessary to succeed in the given industry.

2. Stipend vs. Salary

The compensation structure of fellowship programs and internship programs also tends to vary. Because internships are usually more of a work experience with set hours, they are more likely to offer compensation at an hourly rate. Interns are often considered entry-level employees when it comes to getting paid.

Fellowship programs, on the other hand, are less structured. Fellows create their own goals, schedules, and projects. Obtaining a fellowship is often compared to earning a scholarship. Both provide a lump sum to put towards education or specialized training.

Although some fellowships offer hourly pay, a stipend or grant is the more common form of compensation.

3. Graduate Students or Ph.D Candidates vs. Undergrads or Recent College Graduates

Another feature that sets fellowship programs apart from internship programs is the level of candidate that each tends to attract. There are noted differences in the background knowledge that applicants are expected to have before each program begins.

A fellowship is often a higher level of educational experience, which typically targets graduate students or Ph.D candidates. These are students who may seek research fellowships. Or, they may want to further their graduate studies. Some are even pursuing post-graduate professional development.

In any case, fellowships usually attract graduate-level candidates engaged in higher-level academic studies or a highly professional specialty. Fellowships often include fields like scientific research, healthcare, or government policy.

Although internships may also attract high-level candidates, they’re not specifically designed to facilitate the same degree of experience. Internships are more often geared towards current undergraduate students or recent college graduates. These are applicants looking to lay the foundation for a successful career.

Interns are generally pursuing work experience in a structured environment. They expect to learn the necessary skills to get started in an industry. Interns often start at the bottom and work their way up, with mentorship and guidance along the way. Internships are common in fields like business, law, or tech.

4. Short Duration vs. Long Duration

Both internships and fellowships have a defined start and end date. Though the experiences are both finite, internships tend to be shorter (such as with summer internships). Others last for an academic quarter or semester. In general, most internships are shorter than an academic year.

Fellowships are more variable in length. Some might be as short as three weeks, although they are commonly longer. Semester or year-long fellowships are not uncommon. While summer fellowships might offer a shorter option for those interested, other fellowships may last up to two years. Overall, it’s not unusual for a fellowship to last for a complete calendar year.

How Can Your Business Decide Between an Internship Program and a Fellowship Program?

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Businesses may wonder if the experience they offer is better suited to a fellowship or an internship. To summarize, here are some questions to consider when defining a training program:

  • Will candidates design their own experience?

    • If candidates participate in a predefined program, it’s more likely an internship.
    • If candidates make their own goals and create their projects, the program is more likely a fellowship.
  • What level of background knowledge is expected from applicants?

    • Internships are a great fit for college-level knowledge and skills.
    • Fellowships require more specialized knowledge and skills. They are more appropriate for graduate school students or Ph.D candidates.
  • How will participants be compensated?

    • Internships are usually paid hourly.
    • Fellowships typically provide a stipend or grant.
  • How long will the experience last?

    • Internships usually don’t extend beyond an academic school year.
    • Fellowships may last up to two years.
  • What does the program have to offer?

    • Internship programs usually offer:
      • Career training
      • Networking opportunities
      • Real-world work experience, starting at the entry-level
    • Fellowship programs tend to provide:
      • Access to labs
      • Access to extensive academic libraries
      • Highly specialized training or mentorship for higher-level professional work

The Bottom Line on Fellowships vs. Internships

When it comes to fellowship vs. internship, both provide an opportunity for participants to gain knowledge and experience in the field. The most significant difference between them is the level of experience they provide. While internships generally offer entry-level work experience, fellowships tend to extend more advanced opportunities for research or professional development.

Though it does take an exceptional opportunity to qualify as a fellowship, most companies are well-suited to provide a valuable internship program. To learn more about how to hire interns, attract top graduates, and find high-quality candidates for entry-level positions, check out the services of Scholars.