Internships, Externships, and Co-ops

Internships are an official program offered by an employer, externships can include job shadowing an individual within a field, and co-ops allow students to alternate traditional semesters with working full time.
A student researching internships, externships, and co-ops

One of the best opportunities available in college is the experience offered by hands-on learning. Essentially, whether it is through an internship, externship, or co-op, hands-on learning can connect what students are learning and understanding in the classroom to the real world. These unique opportunities give students multiple chances to broaden their horizons, tap into potential they never thought they had, and make connections with people advanced in their careers. Whether you are considering if an internship, externship, or co-op is right for you, or you just need more clarity on the details of each one, review our summaries below as you pave your plan for the future.


  • An official program offered by an employer to students and/or potential employees
  • Interns work for a certain period of time (can be part-time or full-time)
  • Often quite popular with undergraduates or graduates who work to gain experience related to their desired field of choice
  • Is often a requirement for graduation
  • Can be either paid or unpaid
  • Resume-worthy
  • Exploratory


  • Can include job shadowing an individual within a field (e.g. a respected professional within an industry or workplace that a student has an interest in pursuing)
  • Typically held for a very short time period but can last from a single stay up to eight weeks
  • Usually unpaid
  • Students do not receive school credit for their experience but it can certainly be documented on a resume
  • Acts as a way to discover interests

Co-ops (Co-operative Education)

  • Students alternate traditional semesters with working full time in their chosen field
  • Co-op positions are paid and offered by a variety of organizations/employers
  • Students gain substantial knowledge towards their major
  • Provides academic credit for structured job experiences
  • Promotes professional development
  • Resume worthy

The note-worthy aspect of internships, externships, and co-ops is that all three options are not one-size-fits-all, and that is a good thing. Each offer their own unique opportunities and, perhaps, that's the beauty of them. If you are still unsure which path you want to take, talk over the decision with your academic advisor/counselor as well as friends and family.