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Internship Definition, Characteristics, & Benefits


San Diego State University recognizes the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Internship 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. 


It is recommended employers refer to the Internship Characteristics Matrix for information on SDSU’s best practices on the three categories of internships:

• Paid

• Paid for academic credit

• Unpaid for academic credit

* Please note students must enroll in a course for academic credit when completing an unpaid internship. Refer to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Benefits of an Intern 

• Recruit and create a future pipeline of potential employees

• Interns offer new ideas and are highly motivated pre-professionals

• Internships create an opportunity to connect with SDSU and increase visibility of your organization on campus

• Interns can be a great asset to employers by assisting with short-term projects, research and more

• Connect to SDSU and support future Aztecs 

Posting Internships 


• SDSU encourages all internship providers to compensate their interns. Please note that some majors require students complete only internships

• Compensation is commonly $10.50 - $14 per hour for undergraduate students and $18 - $25 per hour for graduate students based on experience and industry/field

• For unpaid internships, students must earn academic credit and must be enrolled in an internship course. Employers will be required to complete a Service Learning Agreement (SLA) prior to posting an internship position

Aztec Career Connection

•Aztec Career Connection is SDSU’s online job board, for both internships and jobs; and accessible to all students

• Internships for qualified organizations can be posted on the Career Services Aztec Career Connection site:

• To set up an account, got to to find the red Aztec Career Connection Employer Login box on the right side.  Click on "Register for a new account" and follow the instructions to set up an account.

• Processing takes approximatelly 24 business hours for review and background check. Upon approval, employers will receive an email verification with further information

• Please note Career Services reserves the right to refuse an organization’s request to enroll

Service Learning Agreement (SLA) Process

• A Service Learning Agreement (SLA) is required for all unpaid internships.

• Each SLA is processed and reviewed by each individual major department.

• The SLA process helps employers identify qualified students who can also receive credit for their internship experience.

• Department Internship Contacts for specific major(s) you would like to recruit can be found at 

What Interns Want 

Professional Projects & Networks

• Interns want real work related to their professional development, to learn about your profession and to gain experience they can add to their resume

• Introduce interns to professionals to build their communities and network 


• Interns want to hear what they are doing well, what areas they need to improve, and clear direction regarding what is expected of them. Meeting with interns on a regular basis (weekly is recommended) to give feedback is recommended.  

Experience Work Life

• Interns are looking for the opportunity to learn and gain perspective on the work world, including attending staff meetings, client consultations, networking events, etc.

A Work Space

• Provide interns a physical space to work and the adequate tools needed to perform their work.  


•Interns want a supervisor who is available, experienced and knowledgeable in their field. 

Intern Orientation  

Orientation at the beginning of an internship should cover the following:

• Organization Overview

• Goals/Mission

• Company Structure

• Facilities including parking information and a tour including emergency exits, restrooms, and break room

• Policies/Procedures

• Safety regulations

• Security and confidentiality

• Schedule and time reporting

• Office culture 

Intern Program Management 

Supervision & Ongoing Meetings

• Assign an experienced professional to monitor and evaluate intern performance.

• The supervisor and intern should meet regularly (weekly is recommended) to provide guidance with projects. 

Assignments & Reporting

• The supervisor and intern should set specific goals at the beginning of the internship with a plan and time frame for completion of projects. Creating learning outcomes at the beginning of the internship is recommended. 

• Creating learning outcomes at the beginning of the internship is recommended. 


•Supervisors should be clear about their organization’s expectations up front and give students an opportunity to voice their own expectations for the internship.

Opportunities for Growth

•Provide opportunities for increasing responsibility as the internship progresses.  


• Evaluate strengths and discuss areas needing growth and development.

• For interns receiving academic credit, employers may be contacted by the department internship coordinator via phone, on-site visits, and/or written evaluations.

• Discuss intern’s career goals and plans 

Internship Resources

Department Internship Contact List

SDSU Internship Definition & Characteristics Matrix

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Paid vs. Unpaid Internships

Career Services Internship Central        

Service Learning Agreement (SLA) Master List (Check if your organization already has an approved SLA on file with SDSU)

Employer Aztec Career Connection Account

Internship Position Description Template


Intern Checklist - “Employee” or “Trainee”

Is your intern an employee or a trainee? Here are some considerations to review to help you determine if your interns meet the six criteria set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If you can affirm that your intern meets these criteria, your intern is a “trainee.”

___ The work is an integral part of the student’s course of study

___ The student will receive credit for the work or the work is required for graduation

___ The student must prepare a report of his/her experience and submit it to a faculty supervisor

___ The employer has received a letter or some other form of written documentation from the school stating that it sponsors or approves the internship and that the internship is educationally relevant (SDSU’s Service Learning Agreement)

___ Learning objectives are clearly identified

___ The student does not perform work that other employees perform

___ The student is in a shadowing/learning mode

___ The employer provides an opportunity for the student to learn a skill, process, or other business function, or to learn how to operate equipment

___ There is educational value to the work performed, i.e. it is related to the course the student is taking in school

___ The student is supervised by a staff member- can not be a fellow intern

___ The student does not provide benefit to the employer more than 50 percent of the time

___ The employer did not guarantee a job to the student upon completion of the training or completion of schooling

Reprinted from the Winter 2005 NACE Journal, with permission of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.