I frequently get inquiries from students who worked over the summer (or school year) wondering why they can’t get academic credit for their experiences after the fact. In other words, they worked for a company, learned some things along the way, and now want to apply for course credit. Some employers add to the confusion by calling these summer hires “interns”.
The short answer is that education and experience aren’t the same thing. So, we don’t treat them the same way. You only earn academic credit in the pursuit of education. Now for the longer answer…
One way to think about education is that it is preparation for eventual doing. The lessons we teach are based on the accumulation of knowledge over time and across settings and are meant to convey best practice and state-of-the-art thinking. College then “tests” your understanding of these things through activities designed to improve your critical thinking skills and apply that knowledge to specific settings. We believe this process will make you more successful upon graduation because you won’t waste time on trial and error methods and will have a clear framework for addressing problems and innovating where necessary.
Internships for credit are designed to be structured experiences that allow students to practice in areas where they are receiving preparation, get feedback on their current performance as practitioners from both employer and teacher and reflect on how this practical experience can be used to enhance their continued preparation. In essence, it is one way to test your ability to set knowledge into actions that produce desired results.
Simple work for pay does not guarantee any of these outcomes. That is not to say that work is devoid of learning and it certainly can be an excellent way of finding out whether a particular career path is the right one for you, but without guidance from faculty up-front, it is NOT a structured part of your preparation for doing later on. So we don’t provide post hoc credit for it any more than we would grant a degree to someone just because they have twenty years of experience, no matter how valuable that experience might be or how much an employer might be willing to pay for it.
So, if you want to earn credit for an internship, it is important to work with a faculty member early to identify the types of experiences and the sorts of reflective assignments you will want to do as part of the internship experience. Done right, the internship can be great for both your future and the company that helps you along the way.