Internships Resource Guide

Internships involve students working in professional settings under the supervision and monitoring of practicing professionals. Given the lack of a uniform definition for the term "internship" within the institution, as well as variations across different programs and departments, it is helpful to establish a shared definition that goes beyond program-specific differences. From the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE):

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 (Definition of “Internship,” para. 2).


Did you know that according to data from the First Destination Survey, 23.6% of GVSU students complete an internship for credit in a given year? In the 2022-2023 FDS, 14% of those “for credit” internships were from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

The GVSU Career Center is a faculty partner in elevating the internship experience for students. 

Faculty Internship Guide

The CLAS (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) Center for Experiential Learning Resource Guide aims to elevate the existing resources, like the GVSU Career Center Faculty Internship Guide, and provide a theoretical framework for supporting high-impact practices based on David Kolb, George Kuh, and other higher education researchers.

Some language beyond using classroom concepts in the work setting includes finding an internship that lets you do at least one of three things:

  1. Test out your interest area using already developed skills (Would I like this? Is this career what I think it is?)
  2. Build a network in a field of interest. (Will I be able to make connections within the workplace? Within the profession? Can I find a professional mentor?)
  3. Build new technical skills beyond the classroom. (Does this internship offer me the opportunity to learn new technical and professional skills?).

Virginia Gordon (2006) stated that students are engaged in various stages of career and academic planning. To ensure student success and continuation, it is essential to have support systems in place. Internships offer practical experience related to students' field of study, allowing them to apply classroom concepts in a work setting. Through reflection, feedback, and support from faculty, staff, and supervisors, students can develop skills and understanding.

Although “internship” is the most used term, alternatives used in higher education might be “cooperative education,” “work-based learning,” or “work-integrated learning.” It is not a job shadowing experience. Internships provide students with valuable opportunities to explore potential career paths and establish professional connections. According to O'Neill (2012), various internship definitions consistently highlight key elements such as a reflective component, on-site supervision, guidance, and exposure to a specific profession (p. 6). 

Additional Key Terms

Clinical Education: Clinical Education is a term more commonly used in health care settings (movement sciences, etc.) under a credentialed practitioner's supervision. It often includes a credit-bearing course tied to theoretical frameworks and hands-on experiences for students to practice learned didactic skills. (American Council of Academic Physical Therapy wrote a Clinical Education Glossary for common terminology in the field).

Cooperative Education: Cooperative Education (co-op), originally developed in 1906 at the University of Cincinnati, gives students work related to their major or career goal. The difference between a co-op and internship is that in the co-op, the student alternates terms of full-time classroom study with terms of full-time, discipline-related employment. Co-op positions typically are paid, and the vast majority involve some form of academic credit as well. (National Association of Colleges and Employers provides helpful information for understanding co-ops).

Experiential Learning: Experiential Learning is an umbrella term for the hands-on activities involved in internships and co-ops founded on the Kolb Experiential Learning Theory, developed by David A. Kolb. The four main components of the Experiential Learning Cycle are: Experiencing, Reflecting, Thinking, and Acting. The Institute for Experiential Learning provides a framework for experiential learning.

Externship (not an internship): Externships or job shadowing experiences allow a student to spend a brief period (a day to a week) observing a professional in their career of interest. Handshake provides students with a good understanding of the difference between externships and internships.

Fieldwork/Practicum: Fieldwork or practicums are often integral parts of a course that involves practical work, teaching, study, or research activities required by the academic discipline.

Internships provide valuable opportunities for students to gain practical experience in a specific field aligned with their career aspirations. At its core, internships are one of the most impactful forms of experiential learning for career preparation.

David Kolb (1984) wrote: “In addition to acquiring academic credit, interns often develop essential job-related skills and may even receive financial compensation in the form of a salary or stipend.” At Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Internship Coordinators play a crucial role in guiding students through the reflective aspect of this high-impact experiential learning practice. They offer support through various means such as individual consultations, classroom sessions, and academic assignments, staying connected with students throughout the internship, filling out evaluations, and helping students derive meaningful insights from their internship experiences. These techniques are used to help students enhance their career development and interpersonal skills.

Benefits to Faculty

  • Help students gain a deeper understanding of course concepts and how to apply them effectively.
  • Students in internships can share their hands-on experience with their classmates, enriching discussions and benefiting the entire class.
  • Offer faculty opportunities to engage with potential research partners from industry.

Benefits to Students

  • Boost academic motivation and engagement by connecting academic knowledge with real-world applications, fostering self-directed learning.
  • Help clarify academic goals and career expectations.
  • Gain real-world experience, obtain information on selected career fields, and build a network.

When making tough hiring decisions, employers surveyed prefer to hire college students who have completed internships (Gray, 2022). Kuh and O'Donnell (2013) emphasized that quality internship programs exhibit specific characteristics that contribute to high-impact learning experiences. Moreover, Eyler (2009) detailed additional best practices related to internships, offering a comprehensive framework for designing effective and enriching internship opportunities. Eyler (2009) identified best practices for internships such as providing well-developed assessments that show evidence of achievement of academic objectives and preparing students for both the practice challenges of their internship and for learning from the experience.

NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) started the Career Readiness Initiative in 2015 to help higher education professionals, new college graduates, and hiring managers understand what is needed for a successful career, have a common vocabulary, and basic competencies.  The Career Readiness Competencies were refined in 2020 with input from over 300 NACE members and provided helpful points of reflection.

NACE and SkillSurvey identified sample behaviors for the eight competencies to help create a framework for addressing career-related goals and outcomes of curricular and co-curricular activities, regardless of a student’s field of study. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) further provided criteria for an internship experience (NACE, 2011) to be considered legitimate through the following characteristics.  In assessing an internship experience, consider whether one has an important level of impact or a low level of impact based on whether the experience incorporates (or does not incorporate) the essential characteristics.  

Research has explored the effectiveness of experiential learning in enhancing student education, especially in developing career-ready skills (Humphreys, 2021; Kolb, A.Y. & Kolb, D.A., 2005). The points of reflection on the internship experience and taking action based on experiential learning are as important as the experience itself. Reflection questions on building your network, culture and diversity, career paths, skills and tasks, and personal goals help faculty and students assess the experiential learning experience. By utilizing the GVSU Career Center Internship Management System, supervisors and students will receive mid-point and final evaluations filled with reflection questions. 

Four Guiding Questions (for reflection):

What? So What? Now What? Then What?

Sample Reflection Questions (for internship class):

Is there someone at your organization with whom you are interested in following their career path? Write down 2 or 3 action steps to make this happen. 

Does the culture at your internship match your goals or expectations? Why or why not? What are some things that you are taking from this experience to apply to future career opportunities? 

How does this internship connect to your long-term educational or career goals?

Share a time that you used critical thinking to solve a problem in your internship. 

What about your internship is most surprising and what lessons can you draw from the experience?

Consider the following resource for your academic unit: 

The Successful Internship: Personal, Professional, and Civic Development in Experiential Learning by H.F. Sweitzer and M.A. King (2013)

How to Intern Successfully: Insights and Actions to Optimize Your Experience by R. Khoury and J. Selby (2021)

Intern Management Principles for Designing an Exceptional Internship by R. Khoury and J. Selby (2023)



GVSU Career Center

The Faculty Internship Resource Guidedeveloped by the GVSU Career Center includes a section on the breakdown of responsibilities between the faculty internship coordinator, student intern, internship site supervisor, and the GVSU Career Center. Faculty interested in developing an Internship, Co-op, or Practica course can connect with the Career Center.

GVSU Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center  

Internships: Approaches, Strategies, and Best Practices Learning Community. This is a great place to meet other faculty internship coordinators to explore strategies for outreach, networking, student preparation, and reflection. 

Hello West Michigan Employer Internship Toolkit

If you work with a community partner interested in developing or refining their internship experience, Hello West Michigan is a great resource.

AAC&U (American Association for Colleges & Universities) statement

Internships are an increasingly ordinary form of experiential learning. The idea is to provide students with direct experience in a work setting—usually related to their career interests—and to give them the benefit of supervision and coaching from professionals in the field. If the internship is taken for course credit, students complete a project or paper approved by a faculty member. 

Education Advisory Board (EAB)

Log into EAB with a GVSU email address (free as a partner institution) for helpful resources on pre-internship courses, faculty internship site visits, and concurrent internship reflections.

Elon University

Center for Engaged Learning: Information on research-informed practices used to identify best practices in internships.

Georgia College Successful Internship

Information on how this institution assesses experiential learning and internships for students

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Guide to Internships

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) -  Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors: The Integration of Career Readiness into the Curriculum


Internship Mini Grant

This grant is available to both faculty and staff and awards up to $2000 to support internship and practicum opportunities for students.

Career Center Internship Award

This award provides $500 for up to ten students who will be completing an unpaid internship.

First Generation Career Support Award

This award is for a first-generation student completing an unpaid internship or other experiential learning activity. The amount of the award varies.



Boose, M. A. (2011). Managing internships: Experiential learning that can benefit business students, industry, and academic units. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 1(1). doi:10.19030/tlc. v1i1.1898. 

Coker, J. S., & Porter, D. J. (2016). Student Motivations and Perceptions Across and Within Five Forms of Experiential Learning. The Journal of General Education, 65(2), 138–156. 

Eyler, J. (2009). The power of experiential education. Liberal Education, 2431.   

Gordon, V.N. (2006). Career advising: An academic advisor’s guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Gray, K. (2022, January 7). Internship Experience the Most Influential Factor in Tough Hiring Decisions. Retrieved on Friday, March 16 at: 

Hora, M.T. (2019, September 22). Internships as a High-Impact Practice? Inside Higher Education. Retrieved on April 9, 2024 at:

Humphreys, D. (2021, April 27). We Must End Either-Or-Thinking About Skills. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved on March 10, 2024, at

Krumboltz, J.D., & Levin, A.S. (2004). Luck is no accident: Making the most of happenstance in your life and career. Atascadero, CA: Impact. 

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 

Kuh, G.D, O'Donnell, K., & Reed, S. (2013). Ensuring quality and taking high-impact practices to scale. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 

Kub, G.D. (2013). Taking HIPs (High Impact Practices) to the Next Level. In G.D. Kub & K. O’Donnell (eds.), Ensuring quality & taking high-impact practices to scale, 1-13. Washing, DC: AAC&U.  

O’Neill, Nancy. 2010. “Internships as high impact practice: Some reflections on quality.” Peer Review 12 (4): 4-8. 

Page last modified April 29, 2024