Determining the Length of Your Internship Program

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 employers as they evaluate the potential transition from internship to full-time employment. But when setting up an internship program at your company, many employers wonder: How long do internships last? Along with, why is the length important? Is there a minimum length requirement? What standards regarding an internship’s duration exist? 

There is no easy answer to determining the internship duration. Therefore, employers should consider the internship duration as a crucial starting point for potential employment later. 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 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 assigned 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 long internship.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common lengths of internships 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, make connections with professionals in the industry, and assess if this is really what you want to pursue post-graduation. 

These are typically short, lasting about two days to two weeks. 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.

Summer length

Typically, summer internships are longer than those offered in the spring, fall or the winter. Students often have the summer off, therefore having more time to devote to an internship. Many companies tend to provide full-time internships that last 2-3 months. By contrast, internships provided throughout the year could be shorter in length, offering 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 unpaid and the second semester is paid. The second semester isn’t always guaranteed.

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, however, are almost always paid positions, and you 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. 

According to a recent study by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI), which 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% said 2-4 month experience was meaningful;
  • Approximately 30% indicated 3-4 months;
  • 25 % felt 5-6 months;
  • 9% opted for 7-10 months; and
  • 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. But thoughtfully determining the length of your internship program is such an important part of the creation of your internship program as you should be offering candidates multiple internship opportunities to obtain the most offers of full-time employment opportunities. 

Read more: How to Write An Effective and Engaging Intern Job Description

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