What is an internship?

Internships are defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers as

“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.”

National Association of Colleges & Employers. (2023, June). NACE’s guide to internships. Naceweb. https://www.naceweb.org/internships

Internships can be paid or unpaid, and are generally at most 20 hours per week during regular school semesters, and up to 40 hours per week if paid over the summer semesters. Internships are available independently or as part of structured programs. USC Dornsife and USC offer a variety of means for students to source internships, be it through our new Dornsife Compass, connectSC, or via structured internship programs to support students’ career development. Whether you pursue a structured internship program or an independent internship, we recommend you pursue internship and experiential opportunities early and often. While it is not crucial for First-Year students to get internship experience, internship experience is vital for Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors. Employers and organizations seek recent graduates, candidates, who are able to demonstrate preferred experiences and skills.

Fact Sheet #71: Federal Guidelines for Unpaid Internships at a For-Profit Employer

1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa

2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions

3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit

4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar

5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning

6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern

7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship

Both student (intern) and employer should be wary if an unpaid internship at a “For-profit” employer does not meet any of the seven aforementioned criteria.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act.

NOTE: Unpaid internships for public sector and non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible.

Unpaid internships should meet the following guidelines set forth by Fact Sheet #71 by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.

Why are internships important?

Internships provide a means for students to learn and practice skills that they may not otherwise be able to in a classroom. They provide a safe environment for students to learn how theories and concepts they learned in the classroom might be applied in a real-world work environment. Students also get the opportunity to see what it may be like to work at a particular company or within a particular industry, and equip them with key knowledge they can use to target their career search after graduation.

Employers also highly value internship experience, as responsibilities on internships build skills that are highly valued for entry-level positions. A well-designed internship experience can lead to the development of the 8 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) core competencies that have consistently been defined as the main skills that employers look for in hiring new employees:

1. Creativity and Problem Solving: The ability to make decisions, use sound reasoning, and overcome problems with ingenuity and creativity.

2. Communication: The ability to articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in both written and verbal contexts.

3. Teamwork: The capacity to form collaborative relationships with a diverse range of colleagues, work within a team structure, and negotiate and manage conflict.

4. Digital Technology: Competency in existing digital technologies and the ability to adapt to new and emerging technologies.

5. Leadership: Proficiency in leveraging the strengths of others to achieve common goals; using interpersonal skills to coach and develop others.

6. Professionalism/Work Ethic: Demonstrating personal accountability and effective work habits, including time management, integrity, punctuality and the ability to learn from mistakes.

7. Career Management: The ability to identify and articulate your skills, strengths and experiences in a way that’s relevant to the position you desire; proficiency in exploring and pursuing job options; the ability to self-advocate in the workplace.

8. Global/Intercultural Fluency: Cultural sensitivity, respect, openness and the ability to learn from people of diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, sexual orientations and religions.


Download a PDF of the NACE competencies for quick reference.

Resources for Students

You are welcome to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our Career Advisors on Dornsife Compass (dornsife-usc-csm.symplicity.com/) to discuss internships. Just navigate to the Counseling section, and select “Internship Advising” as the meeting topic.

Below are some additional resources that may be helpful for students seeking internships.

You may be required to receive academic credit for an individual internship. The below list covers internship courses available through Dornsife.

Dornsife Internship Courses

AMST 365: Leadership in the Community
ANTH 393: Directed Internship
EALC 366: Chinese Professional Internship – 2 units (Language prerequisite: EALC 206 Chinese IV)
ENST 396: Directed Governmental & Political Leadership Internship
IR 391: Directed International Relations Field Study
ITAL 222: Italian Professional Internship, Communication and Culture
MDA 250: Internship for Liberal Arts: Work and Career – Theory and Practice
POSC 395: Directed Governmental & Political Leadership Internship
SOCI 450: Non-Governmental Organizations/Non-Profits Field Practicum
SWMS 311: Gender & Sexuality Studies Internship

You may enroll in any of the courses listed above or any USC Internship course to meet the academic credit criteria for an unpaid internship at a “For-Profit” company.


USC students traveling abroad independently, including Ph.D. students performing research, attending conferences, or any other University-related activity, must work with administrative staff in their departments to complete the Independent Student Travel registration to ensure they are compliant with USC policy for Student Travel Abroad

Students studying abroad & interning by way of a USC Dornsife Overseas program, do not need to complete the travel registration as they will already be in our system.

Resources for Employers

We welcome employers to connect with Dornsife Career Pathways to promote internship opportunities for our students. We can offer the following ways to connect with students:

1. Free platform to post positions on Handshake (https://joinhandshake.com/employers/)
2. Targeted email marketing to specific majors and class years
3. Promoting listings in twice-monthly student newsletters
4. Virtual and in-person informational sessions and skills workshops through our Employer Oppor2nity series
5. Hosting 1:1 virtual and in-person “coffee chats” with students
6. Career fairs

Internships must last for at least 6 weeks and be at minimum 5 hours per week and at most 20 hours per week during fall and spring semesters. 40 hour per week internships are allowed over the summer if they are paid. Both virtual and in-person internships are permitted.

USC has several guidelines for internships that are promoted to our students. For a full guide of best practices on developing internship programs, please follow this link: https://careers.usc.edu/resources/develop-an-effective-internship-program/

Posting Internships with USC Dornsife

When submitting a listing on Handshake or to our office, we request that the following information be clearly outlined:

1. Title of internship
2. Hours per week the intern would be expected to work
3. Whether the internship is paid or unpaid (unpaid must meet Fact Sheet #71 guidelines)
4. Short overview of the intern position (a few sentences)
5. Short overview of the intern’s responsibilities (bullet points encouraged)
6. Learning objectives and what the intern can expect to learn after completing the internship (several bullet points, including things the intern will learn about and opportunities for them to learn from staff (lunch and learns, 1:1 interaction, mentorship, etc.) to ensure it is of mutual benefit to the company and the intern as a learning experience)
7. Brief overview of the organization (several sentences)
8. Whether or not international students are accepted (yes or no)

If you are an employer and would like to learn more about partnering with Dornsife Career Pathways, please contact Dr. Caroline Fraissinet at fraissin@usc.edu.

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