Are Winter Internships Real?

Students come into the Center for Career Development all the time, happy to announce that they have found an opportunity over winter break that an employer calls an internship. The student is hoping to earn credit for being part of an organization for 2-4 weeks. Unfortunately, I often have to break the news that this 2-4 week, part-time work experience is likely not a true internship nor will it be eligible for credit.
For an experience to be called an internship, it must combine a number of factors including project work, exposure to the career industry, mentorship, supervision, and opportunities for the student to learn and reflect about the field or industry, that don’t necessarily benefit the employer. To earn credit, the experience has to meet additional University requirements, often a minimum number of hours over a designated period of time, no less than 8-10 weeks.
All that stated, if a student does find an opportunity that offers a chance to shadow some people in the field, complete a small project, work on tasks that provide exposure to how an organization is run, etc., he/she would be smart to take advantage of what has been offered. The staff at the Center for Career Development can help the student articulate the opportunity in the best way possible, highlighting the organization and the role on his/her résumé. So though the term, winter internship, may not be accurate, the idea behind them is often legitimate and well intentioned.
Keep in mind that employers are often impressed when a student takes initiative over winter break, finding ways to stay engaged and active in the time period between semesters. It is really easy to stay home, connect with friends and family, sleep, and binge on some favorite shows, movies or books, and sometimes that is the healthiest option after a stressful semester. If however, you have the energy and desire to be thinking about your career and want to do something tangible, reaching out to an employer to offer your services for a few weeks, or pursuing an advertised position, may be an excellent alternative.