What you need to know about scholarships versus internships | On careers


Both scholarships and internships offer students or early-career professionals the opportunity to explore or move forward on a focused career path, but they are different in many ways. Here are some essentials to know about both and how they can improve future career prospects.

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What is a scholarship?

A scholarship is a training and research opportunity that provides professional development for research or study of a field. Offered by universities, businesses, institutions, government, and some industry groups, these merit-based and career improvement opportunities typically involve a highly competitive selection process. Applicants for scholarships are often graduate or postgraduate students looking to delve deeper into a subject and gain additional skills for future professions or studies. Applicants will come up with a topic they would like to explore as a fellow, such as writing a book, researching a medical issue, or developing a community program.

Fellowships often last for a few months, but some can last for several years depending on the area of ​​research. To find a highly coveted scholarship, applicants should explore related academic programs, nonprofit and research institutions, industry associations, major employers, and government and civic groups. Many schools will have a scholarship database. Some additional sources may be the American Medical Association, the Mellon Foundation, ProFellow, and the Public Service Jobs Directory.

Scholarships require sufficient lead time. On average, it takes six to eight months between application and funding.

What is an internship?

Internships are most often offered to students, and sometimes to new graduates, to experience a professional working environment. They will have entry level job responsibilities and often culture and team building initiatives to help interns learn more about roles and career paths. While some are unpaid and can help participants gain academic credit, many internships offer compensation. They usually last a few months.

Key distinctions between scholarships and internships

If you are considering applying for a scholarship or an internship, be aware of 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 topic. They will carry out a lot of research, analysis and communication of the results. Fellows have access to mentors and training as well as instructors and experts who are the best in their field. These are rigorous programs and require a high level of commitment and excellence in work.

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The step-by-step guide to career success

Trainees most often select a predefined internship opportunity. They can have more variety in what they do and learn, as the primary focus of an internship is exposure and awareness of career paths, industries, and work environments. Interns will develop and operate a wide range of skills and abilities depending on the type of internship. The work is generally entry level in nature.

Candidate pool

Although undergraduates can apply for both scholarships and internships, fellows are generally more advanced in their university education. Fellows often pursue master’s or doctoral studies. Interns, however, are typically undergraduate or between the two years required to complete a master’s program. Some internships are also ideal for high school students.


Internships and scholarships require an application process with a resume, transcripts, interviews, and often recommendations. The scholarships also require a proposal from each applicant regarding the research objective and objective of the scholarship. Fellows may also need to submit writing samples. The pursuit of a scholarship is known to be very demanding with a very selective process.


Fellows may receive a stipend depending on their proposal and the potential time it will take to complete. The allowance, once agreed upon, is fixed and does not require the fellow to declare the hours or time taken. In some cases, scholarship recipients may also receive housing, student loan assistance, and health care for more involved or highly competitive programs. Interns are most often paid by the hour or with academic credits or both. They will adhere to typical company employment policies.

Scholarships and internships provide exceptional real-world work and professional development for those who participate. The majority of students can (and should) take advantage of an internship or two during their studies in order to gain “real world” knowledge of career paths and environments. However, only a small percentage of students, especially those in masters and doctoral programs, will participate in a scholarship. Now may be the time to take either of these paths to strengthen your long-term career prospects.


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