There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “How long are internships?” While there are some general standards most organizations follow, the length of an internship depends on the structure of the program and the type of internship being offered. Usually, it lasts somewhere between one month and one year.
This might seem like a huge range, but it’s easy to narrow down once you consider the different factors that impact an internship. Let’s take a closer look and answer the question, “How long are internships?”
How Long Are Internships: The Academic Calendar
Following an academic calendar is a common way to determine the length of an internship. This makes sense because many interns are college students, recent graduates, or graduate-level students. For this demographic, the academic calendar segments the year into reasonable chunks of time. Using these already established time periods allows college students to fit an internship into their schedule, thus making the position more attractive for students seeking internships.
One common length is the summer internship. Since most college students don’t have classes during the summer, they’re available for internship opportunities or other work experiences during these months.
Summer internships can be full-time programs because interns don’t have to juggle the internship with coursework or other jobs. Though the number of hours will vary from one intern to another, a summer intern could work up to 40 hours per week.
This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes a student will take classes for college credit or work a paid position alongside interning. In these cases, part-time summer internships are a great option.
Employers should take into consideration the intern’s other commitments when deciding if the internship program will be full-time or part-time . If the intern is taking classes concurrently, the internship may only be part-time. Other times, interns will take a semester off from school to participate, or will receive academic credit for participating. In those instances, a semester-long internship could be a full-time position.
These semester-long intern programs are a popular option. Again, because most college-age interns are already living by the academic calendar, a semester-based internship is convenient.
When Are Longer Internships Appropriate?
Summer internships and semester-long internships generally last about three to four months. Although this is very common, it’s not the only amount of time that future employers might offer for internship programs. There are often other factors at play.
Sometimes, especially in highly technical or more specialized professional settings, an intern might need a longer period of time to assimilate into the workplace and learn relevant skills.
In other instances, an intern might not be able to gain a full sense of the industry without staying longer. For example, if you take a summer internship with a company that offers educational youth travel excursions, the summer period might provide a lot of hands-on experience working with participants during these trips.
However, interning with the same company during their off-season would provide a broader picture of all the work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for these trips. An internship program that covers at least part of the high season and part of the off-season could provide a more holistic view of the industry and more authentic career development in that field.
When this is the case, internships may last up to six months or even a year to provide a better idea of what full-time employment in that field is actually like.
When Are Shorter Internships Appropriate?
There are times when a months-long internship doesn’t make sense. This could be for any number of reasons, but the most common reasons behind shorter internships are financial factors, scheduling conflicts, or the specific type of internship it is.
Internships can be expensive for the employer. If the internship is paid, the employer must have a budget for the position. At the same time, appointed company employees will have to devote time mentoring and teaching the intern. These costs can add up for the employer.
Likewise, internships can be costly for the intern, particularly if it’s an unpaid internship. What’s more, if the employer is only able to offer a small stipend or minimum wage, the intern might not be able to participate for longer than a few weeks.
There are also scheduling conflicts to consider, especially when an intern is a college student. If an employer isn’t able to offer an internship during the summer or an academic semester, it might be difficult for a college student to fit the internship into his or her schedule. The company might instead try to offer something that can fit in the periphery of the traditional college schedule.
This option will ultimately make the experience more appealing to those who are in the midst of their internship search. In this case, it might be a month-long internship over winter break or a few weeks at the very beginning of the summer break.
That said, in cases where the benefits of the internships can be gleaned in a shorter time frame, it might make sense to offer shorter internships.
For example, if an intern can learn the basic functions of their role and get a good idea of how the company runs over a period of a month, it makes sense to have the internship last only that long.
In cases where the company can only accommodate a much shorter experience, an externship might be more appropriate. This way, the company can welcome new interns more frequently and ultimately train more potential employees over the course of the year.
Questions to Consider When Deciding How Long an Internship Should Be
Potential employers that are creating an internship program will need to consider these key questions when deciding how long their internship programs will last.
1. What’s the Budget for the Program?
This is the most significant driving factor that determines the duration of an internship program. Employers must first consider if the internship will be paid or unpaid, and carefully review compensation laws and regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Also, consider the time commitment required by other employees who will be working with the intern. How will time spent with the intern impact employee productivity? Be sure to include this in your financial calculations.
If the budget is small, you will need to limit the length of the internship accordingly. If the budget exists for a longer-term program, you’ll have more options to consider.
2. Is the Industry Highly Seasonal?
If your industry is highly seasonal in nature, employers should consider which period of time gives an intern the best overall perspective of what it’s like to work in that field. This is the case for any company that has a high and low season, such as hospitality, tourism, or education. This might mean the intern needs to be present for at least two seasons, or it could mean that one particular season is a more valuable period to observe and experience.
Employers know their industry best and can anticipate how it varies throughout the year. Companies should carefully consider which periods of time offer the best overall experience for potential interns, so that participants are best prepared to enter the workforce as productive employees.
3. Can the Program Operate on the Academic Calendar?
Not all industries are well-suited to offer job training programs on the same schedule as a traditional academic calendar. But if it’s possible in your industry, you should strongly consider it. Most intern candidates can integrate an internship in their schedule if it conveniently matches their predetermined calendar. Internships that fit neatly into the summer months or into a single semester will be more desirable to college-age applicants.
How Long Are Internships? It’s Up to the Company
Ultimately, there is no single cut-and-dried answer to the question, “How long do internships last?” Instead, each employer designing an internship program must consider their unique circumstances and goals. Budget, schedule, work experience, and the academic calendar may all come into play when making this important decision.
Shorter duration internships might be appropriate when budget concerns or scheduling conflicts come into play, while longer internships may be better if they align with the academic calendar and offer a more comprehensive view of the industry. A schedule that works for both the employer and the intern will attract the highest number of qualified candidates.
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.