What to Know About Fellowships vs. Internships

Fellowships and internships both offer students or early career professionals an opportunity to explore or move forward in a targeted career path, but they are different in many ways. Here are some critical things to know about both and how they can enhance future career prospects.

What Is a Fellowship?

A fellowship is a training and research opportunity that provides professional development to research or study a subject area. Offered by universities, companies, institutions, government and some industry groups, these career enhancing, merit-based opportunities typically involve a highly competitive selection process. Candidates for fellowships are often graduate or post-graduate students who seek to go deeper in a subject matter and gain additional skills for future professions or study. Candidates will propose a topic that they would like to pursue as a fellow such as writing a book, researching a medical problem or developing a community-based program.

[READ: How to Make the Most of Your College Career Center.]

Fellowships often last a few months, but some can last for several years based on the subject area that is being researched. To find a highly coveted fellowship, candidates should explore related academic programs, nonprofit and research institutions, industry associations, leading employers, and government and civic groups. Many schools will have a database of fellowships. Some additional sources can be the American Medical Association, Mellon Foundation, ProFellow and the Public Service Jobs Directory.

Fellowships require ample lead time. On average, it takes six to eight months from application to funding.

What Is an Internship?

Internships are most often offered to students, and sometimes new graduates, to experience a professional work environment. They will have entry-level work responsibilities and often culture and team building initiatives to help interns learn more about roles and career paths. Although some are unpaid and may help participants to receive academic credit, many internships offer compensation. They typically last a couple of months.

Key Distinctions Between Fellowships and Internships

If you’re considering applying for a fellowship or internship, consider the differences between the two.


Fellows focus on a specific area or project, which they often propose, for professional development and deeper knowledge of a desired subject matter. They will conduct ample amounts of research, analysis and communication of findings. Fellows are given access to mentors and training as well as instructors and experts that are top in their field. They are rigorous programs and require a high level of commitment and excellence in work.

Interns most often select a predefined internship opportunity. They may have more variety in what they do and learn — as the primary purpose of an internship is exposure and awareness regarding career paths, industries and work environments. Interns will develop and leverage a wide array of skills and abilities based on the type of internship. The work is usually entry-level in nature.

[READ: How to Write a Professional Bio.]

Candidate Pool

Although undergraduate students may apply for both fellowships and internships, fellows are usually further along in their academic background. Fellows are often pursuing master’s or doctorate degrees. Interns, however, are usually undergraduate or in between the two years it may take to complete a master’s program. There are some internships that are ideal for high school students as well.


Both internships and fellowships require an application process with a resume, transcripts, interviews and often recommendations. Fellowships also require a proposal from each candidate regarding the focus and research purpose of the fellowship. Fellows may also need to submit writing samples. Pursuing a fellowship is known to be very demanding with a highly selective process.

[READ: 10 Free Online Certification Courses to Advance Your Career.]


Fellows may receive a stipend based on their proposal and the potential time it will take to complete. The stipend, once agreed to, is fixed and does not require the fellow to report hours or time taken. In some cases, fellows may also receive housing, student loan assistance and health care for more involved or highly competitive programs. Interns are most often paid either hourly or with academic credit or both. They will adhere to the typical employment policies of the company.

Fellowships and internships offer exceptional real world work and professional development to those who participate. The majority of college students can (and should) take advantage of an internship or two while in school so that they have “real world” knowledge of career pathways and environments. However, only a small percentage of students, especially those in master’s and doctorate programs, will participate in a fellowship. Now could be the right time to pursue either of these pathways to bolster your longer-term career prospects.

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What to Know About Fellowships vs. Internships originally appeared on usnews.com

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