U.S. Department of Labor Internship Guidelines

Because the parties involved in the internship process-students, colleges and universities, and employers-have differing objectives, it is important to have a definition of "internship" upon which all parties can agree. Currently, the term "internship" is used to describe various experiences. Moreover, there are no guidelines by which employers, educators, and students can consistently define "internships."  

To establish uniformity in the use and application of the term "internship," NACE recommends the following definition: 
An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.

To effectively implement this definition, it is necessary to develop criteria that college career centers and employer recruiters can use to identify workplace experiences that can legitimately be identified as "internships." The discussion of these criteria is framed by several conditions. These conditions are the legal definitions set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); the widely varying guidelines set by individual educational institutions and academic departments within institutions; employer perspectives on and objectives for internships; and the unique experiential learning objectives of students.  

The legal considerations are addressed through six criteria for unpaid interns for the service they provide to "for-profit" private sector employers articulated in the Fair Labor Standards Act (see FLSA Fact Sheet #71). Essentially, if the six criteria are met, the Department of Labor (DOL) considers there to be no employment relationship. The six criteria established by the DOL are:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the employer's facilities, is similar to training that would be given in a vocational school.
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the student.
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under the close observation of a regular employee.
  4. The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. Occasionally, the operations may actually be impeded.
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time in the internship.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.