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Internship Advantage-Definition and Disclaimer


The information contained in this site is a summary and opinion of the MTSU Career Development Center. It is not intended as legal advice to anyone, under any circumstances. All parties should seek their own legal advice from qualified and licensed attorneys. Many of the links are to external sites not affiliated with MTSU or the Career Development Center. These are resources that are maintained by third parties over whom the Career Development Center has no control. These links are provided as additional resources should you choose to use them. You agree to hold harmless, release, and indemnify MTSU, its employees, and assigns, specifically, the Career Development Center and its representatives from any liability in connection with your participation in these sites.

Internship Definition

The following is the Career Development Center's definition of an internship. Please note that this may be different from other academic departments on campus.  

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. Additionally, in a formal, structured program with faculty supervision, there is the opportunity to improve the curriculum and impact academic research.

This definition closely mirrors the definition by the National Association of Colleges and Employers published in their Position Statement on U.S. Internships.  

The Career Development Center is not an academic department and therefore does not grant credit for any internships. The CDC's primary role is the posting of internship opportunities.  

Paid vs. Unpaid

In April 2010 the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, clarified its standing on unpaid internships with specific regard to for-profit organizations. This led to many articles in the media and position statements by different professional associations trying to come to some resolution over the issue.

Central to the issue is the 6-Point Test outlined in Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has had a test in place for many years but sought to clarify how or when for-profit institutions can hire unpaid interns. It is important to note that the FLSA addresses if an employment relationship exists. If so, the employee is entitled to minimum wage payment. It does not address whether the position is an internship or not, regardless of whether academic credit is awarded. Thus, calling it an internship and/or granting academic credit does not exempt it from the 6-Point Test.  

Much of the discussion on the 6-Point Test centers around criteria #4 which states,"The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded." Many agree that for an internship to be worthwhile, the student should be engaged in meaningful learning experiences. NACE explains it best in their Position Statement:  

"Students pursue internships because they want to gain professional experience that links their academic coursework to the disciplines they want to pursue for their careers. To gain this experience, students want to engage in projects and tasks that contribute to the professional work of the organization. This means that the employer does benefit from the work of the intern while, at the same time, it provides a meaningful experience that allows for the application of academic knowledge."

Thus, it is inconceivable how any internship-worthy experience could pass the 6-Point Test and be unpaid. Please note this only applies to for-profit organizations; not-for-profit organizations are not covered by this.  

The MTSU Career Development Center posts only paid internships with for-profit organizations, regardless of whether they are for credit or not. The CDC will post unpaid positions with not-for-profit organizations although we strongly encourage them to pay at least minimum wage

Position Statements

Cooperative Education Definition

What is the definition of Cooperative Education (Co-ops) and how are they different from internships?
Cooperative Education is similar in definition to internships in that both are a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Both 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.Additionally, in a formal, structured program with faculty supervision, there is the opportunity to improve the curriculum and impact academic research.

How Are Co-ops Different from Internships?
A co-op position:

  • Is always paid.
  • Always involves multiple semesters - minimum of two, usually three semesters.
  • Is always for academic credit. The credit is given for the learning, not the work. Thus experience must be related to the student's major of study and future career goals. Future terms must build on experience gained from the first term with increased responsibilities and increased opportunity for learning.
  • May be alternating or parallel.
    • Alternating - Student alternates semesters of full-time work with full-time study. Alternating students maintain their full-time student status while working. Students may take classes during their working term if their work schedule allows.
    • Parallel - Student works part-time while enrolled in classes full-time.

Does MTSU Offer Co-ops?
The University has co-op credit courses.  The Career Development Center will post co-op positions.  The awarding of academic credit is arranged between the student and the academic department. The CDC does not award credit. MTSU does not have a separate Co-op Office.

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