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Internship Basics

What is an Internship?

Internships are carefully designed and monitored educational experiences that provide students the opportunity to integrate academic knowledge with practical work experience in a professional setting. They are supervised, mentored, and evaluated experiences that help students test interests, develop new skills, and learn first-hand about the workplace in their field of study.

Internships are designed to benefit both students and employers. Students receive real world experience in positions related to their academic major and career goals while employers benefit from their skills and assistance. Employers recruit students to work on special projects, assist with daily tasks, or provide support during times of higher demand. Students earn academic credit, pay, or in some instances, both for the work they provide to their employer.

An important element that distinguishes internships from short-term jobs is the intentional “learning agenda” structured into each experience. Students have specific learning objectives and supervisors serve as mentors, providing opportunities to meet the objectives as part of or in addition to the specific duties of the internship.

An Internship is NOT...

  • Free administrative labor
  • Free or inexpensive solution to a full-time position vacancy
  • A “go-for”, data entry clerk or menial work unrelated to a collegiate, academic program.
General Guidelines:
  • A one-semester work experience that coincides with the academic calendar
    • Fall Semester: August – December
    • Spring Semester: January - May
    • Summer Semester: June - August
  • Paid or unpaid
  • Students work approximately 135 hours to earn 3 credit hours
  • Students work for a minimum of 10 weeks Fall/Spring and 6 weeks Summer
  • Students have a site supervisor who monitors and evaluates work performance
  • Internships include an academic component supervised by a CU Denver faculty member (known as a faculty sponsor) who monitors and evaluates the academic learning and assigns grades
  • Learning objectives, job duties and academic assignments are documented in an internship learning agreement. Interns will work toward achieving specific learning objectives
  • A performance evaluation is required at the end of the internship
  • Interns are never required to pay the employer in any form to take part in the experience (i.e. training or licensing fee)


  • A one-semester or multi-semester work experience
  • Always a paid experience
  • 2 types of work schedules:
    • Parallel -- Student works part-time while enrolled in college classes (most common)
    • Alternating -- Student alternates full-time work and a full-time class schedule typically on a 6 month rotation
  • Students do not earn academic credit
  • Learning objectives and job duties are documented in a Co-op Learning Agreement
  • A performance evaluation is required at the end of each semester
  • Co-ops are never required to pay the employer in any form to take part in the experience (i.e. training or licensing fee)
  • Many co-ops transition into full-time career employment after graduation.​

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