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How Long Is an Internship? Tips for Managers Developing Intern Programs

by | Dec 9, 2020 | Internships

Internships are very important to an employer’s diversity recruiting strategy for various reasons. They provide students with “real world” experience, but they also set expectations for potential employers as they evaluate the potential transition from internship to full-time jobs. 

For managers and recruiters that are setting up an internship program, it’s natural for questions about the scope to arise. Many employers wonder: how long do internships last? And why is the length important? Is there a minimum length requirement? What standards regarding an internship’s duration exist? 

Here, we put together a quick guide to help managers decide how long their internship program should be. You’ll find several different length options, along with tips on which model is best suited for different company goals.

How Long Is an Internship Program Typically?

How long is an internship: Workmates discussing calendar schedule

So how long is an internship typically? The truth is, there is no easy way to determine an internship duration. In general, employers should consider the duration of the internship as a crucial starting point for potential employment later. Here are a few guidelines regarding the length of internships.

Internships are typically longer than externships, but shorter than temporary jobs. Internship lengths are measured to aspects of the job, actually — the number of hours the intern works every week, and the number of weeks they agree to work. 

They can also be part-time or full-time. For many required internships, such as a medical internship, the intern will work full-time and even get a full-time salary. Others might be part-time, working about 5-20 hours every week. Sometimes, there is no set time at all and you can instead simply assign projects to your interns. When they are finished with your assignments, they can leave. 

A key factor in determining proper internship length is that it should be long enough so that an intern can get into the rhythm of the position and complete deliverables that are valuable to both the student or recent graduate as well as the employer. Most companies and schools will agree that an average internship of 3-4 months, with 20-35 hours a week, coinciding with a student’s typical summer period is reasonable. But if a position is only for 5-10 hours a week, you might want to consider a 6-8 month internship.

Common Internship Lengths

How long is an internship: Woman using a laptop and writing on her calendar

So you know that a typical internship lasts a few months, but when should you set it up? Let’s take a look at some of the most common lengths of internships and seasonality so you can choose the best option that works for you and your company. 

Externship Length

An externship is a short-term shadowing experience in which a student follows a professional to observe the day-to-day activities in their workplace. An extern gains an insider’s perspective of their chosen field, makes connections with professionals in the industry, and assesses if this is really what they want to pursue post-graduation. 

These are typically short, lasting about two days to two weeks. They’re also usually geared towards entry-level roles and only provide a brief introduction to the craft. They might be slightly longer depending on the job but these are typically more flexible than internships and can be completed over spring break or even on a day without classes. 

Semester Length

Internships are most commonly semester-length — about two to three months. This period of internship is easy to arrange since it won’t conflict with a college student’s schedule. Keep in mind that semester internships are typically part-time as students still have classes to attend.

Oftentimes, these internship positions offer either minimum wage and fair compensation or academic credit in exchange for hours worked. This period of time is also beneficial for students who are interning because they can concurrently take courses that help to build and develop skills they’re using daily at the internship program. This means they’ll get knowledge in the classroom that they can apply to their real-life projects at their internship.

Summer Length

Typically, summer internships are longer than those offered in the spring, fall, or winter semesters. They usually start in May or June depending on college schedules and the end date is typically in late August or even early September.

Students often have the summer off, therefore having more time to devote to an internship. Students won’t have to juggle coursework as well as employment duties, enabling them to dive completely into the work at hand.

Many companies provide full-time summer internships that last 2-3 months. By contrast, internships provided throughout the year could be shorter in length. You can offer them as part-time or flextime opportunities for students who are balancing their classroom schedule. 

Year Length

Sometimes, internships last an entire year — or, more specifically, two semesters (an entire school year). In many cases, the first semester is an unpaid internship and the second semester is paid. The second semester isn’t always guaranteed and students usually have to perform well during the first semester to secure a spot in the paid second semester.

College Career Length

If your company is affiliated with a local college or can provide college credit, you create a college career length internship. Internships that last this long are almost always paid positions. Students usually can’t get more than two semesters of credit for it, so be sure to understand the legality and guidelines of this type of internship before moving forward. You can reach out to the career center of a partner university or seek legal advice from a reputable attorney when setting up this type of arrangement. 

What’s the Industry Standard on Length?

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A recent study by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) looked at a company’s attitude towards internships as part of their essential talent management strategy. Their recruiting trends survey asked: “what is the desired internship experience required satisfying employer criteria transitioning candidates from internships to full-time employment?”

According to study results, “45% of respondents expected students to have between 6 and 12 months of full-time work experience by the time they completed their degrees. Approximately 25% to 30% of these employers expected 13-24 months; the remaining 30% would accept candidates with 5 months or less of full-time experience. Furthermore, another question posed by CERI focused on what employers felt was an appropriate length of time for an individual‘s internship to be a meaningful experience to the company.” 

The survey results found:

  • 5% of respondents said 2-4 month experience was meaningful
  • Approximately 30% indicated 3-4 months
  • 25% preferred 5-6 months
  • 9% opted for 7-10 months
  • 30% indicated that the experience had to last at least 12 months or longer

Employers obviously have different expectations on what is considered meaningful, and the amount of desired hands-on experience before graduating prior to full-time employment. In general, it seems that internships of more than three months tend to provide higher satisfaction from employers. 

Let Scholars Help

Thoughtfully determining the length of your internship program is such an important part of the creation of your internship program. Determining the right amount of time for your internship involves knowing your market talent and understanding the needs of your business. 

When it comes to answering the question of “how long is an internship,” there isn’t one right answer. Some businesses may find that a full-time summer internship provides the most value while others find a better fit with a part-time semester setup.

Need help when it comes to crafting a successful internship program? At Scholars, we’re here to help. On our blog, you’ll find tips on how to structure an internship program as well as advice on how to combat The Great Reneging.

About Scholars

Scholars helps companies build engaging candidate experiences at scale. Create personalized journeys for all of your candidates from application through onboarding.

About Scholars

Internships and early-career jobs are unlike any others. They are often accepted months, if not years, in advance of the start date leaving plenty of time for candidates to change their minds and decide to work elsewhere, costing your team time and money.

There are two ways that have been proven to decrease renege rates for any company: keeping candidates engaged by sharing personalized information and helping them make connections with their future teammates. Companies use Scholars to accomplish both of these at scale.