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Understanding Internships

For a student with disabilities, transitioning to the world of work requires careful planning, often involving the cooperative efforts of the student and his or her family members, along with school personnel, adult service providers and employers. Planning for employment involves the discovery of a student’s interests, skills and dreams and how each of these may relate to potential employment. Internships provide a way to explore the employment world.

Why Seek an Internship?

Competition for jobs continues to increase.  A potential employee is expected to be more qualified than the next person.  Employers want recent graduates to have some experience.  “Ninety-five percent of employers have said that candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions” (Hansen, Katharine, n.d.).

If you are a high school or college student, the critical next step to employment might be securing an internship to build work experience.  Internships can greatly enhance classroom learning because you are gaining knowledge of your chosen field.

What is an Internship?

An internship is a professional work experience.  During an internship, you are actively performing duties and responsibilities in the workplace that support and benefit the business (Grossman, Susanne, n.d.).   Internships can take place in all sizes and types of workplace settings, including banks, radio and television stations, hospitals, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Usually internships are unpaid. Some employers require that internships be completed for college credit. Completing an internship can be very beneficial as you plan for the world of work.

“Mary Margaret is an undergraduate business major at the University of St. Thomas. She attended a university sponsored campus job fair, where she impressed the recruiter from a major marketing company. The recruiter recommended her for one of the company’s internships. Mary Margaret interned at this company the summer before her senior year. She attended monthly staff meetings, worked with a team of marketing researchers, and had the opportunity to assist one of the company’s executives in creating a mentoring program for middle school students.”

The Benefits of Internships

Internships can provide you with a sense of the work environment – the rhythm of working, culture, duties, and responsibilities.  Internships offer you relevant experience that employers seek.  Today, a growing number of colleges and universities require that their students complete an internship and offer credit for doing so.  Other benefits of completing and internship include:

Where Do I Find an Internship?

Looking for an internship is good practice for finding a job.  Planning, searching, applying, and accepting are all processes that apply whether you are looking for an internship or looking for a job.

It is important to cover all possibilities when looking for internships.  Look for connections at school, through your family and friends, and anywhere you can think of that might offer an internship in your field of interest.  Potential action steps include:


An internship is a great way to learn about a particular profession, explore employment options, develop and foster new networks, explore workplace cultures, and learn if a particular career path is right for you.  For youth with disabilities, internships can also be an excellent opportunity to identify and practice useful job accommodations and assistive technologies.  Workplace success requires preparation and practice and both can be gained through a quality internship.

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  • Grossman, Susanne: Article #1: Why You Should Do an Internship? n.d.
  • Hansen, Katharine: Quintessential Careers: College Students:  You Simply Must Do an Internship (Better Yet: Multiple Internships), n.d.