Field Experience Definitions

There are many types of experiences that give students hands-on exposure to specific careers.  Internships and co-ops are popular types of field experiences, but so are clinical rotations, student teaching, shadowing, community service, research with a faculty member, or senior capstone experiences.

Co-op: Cooperative education (co-op) is a work experience that is between 30-40 hours per week at an organization where the work is directly related to the student’s major.  These experiences are not for academic credit; rather, the student must earn at least minimum wage, and the employer must agree to complete a pre-co-op position description form and a post-co-op evaluation. Students must also receive permission from their academic department in order to participate in a co-op.  While on co-op, students maintain full-time student status, which is reflected on the transcript, and they do not pay regular tuition.  They may be enrolled in up to two online classes offered by UWW and would pay the UWW per credit rate. Co-ops can last one semester or a semester plus summer (from 4-9 months in duration); however, a summer-only job is not a co-op, as an academic leave is not necessary in the summer.  Note that international students have additional work-visa restrictions related to co-ops. (In Spire, co-ops are listed as UMASS 298C, 398C, or 498C).

Internship: An internship is a position within an organization that provides students with a professional-level training experience and/or gives them the opportunity to explore a specific career.  Internships happen year-round; they may be paid or unpaid, for credit or not. Credited internships require a faculty sponsor to determine the applicable number of credits (varying from 1-14 credits) and to assign a related academic project.  The UMass guideline for earning credit is: For one credit, a student must work at least 40 hours. If students do not have a GPA of at least a 2.0+ with 45 credits completed before beginning an internship, an additional College Dean’s permission signature is required.  During the academic semester, students can go on internship part-time while also taking classes.  In addition, there are some full-time internship programs such as Semester in the City and the Washington Center.  Note that international students have additional work-visa restrictions related to internships. (In Spire, internships are listed as UMASS 298I ,398I or 498I, or through the academic departments such as JOURNAL 298 or POLISCI 298).

Practicum: A practicum is a REQUIRED experience(s) for students in certain applied fields such as Nursing and Education. Student competencies are fully developed and are supervised by approved employer partners. Practicums require a signed affiliation agreement with the employer that is managed through the departments. (In Spire, co-ops are listed as UMASS 298P, 398P, or 498P, or through the academic department).

REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates):  The REU program is a National Science Foundation-sponsored research program that consists of a group of ten or so undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project, where he/she works closely with the faculty and other researchers. Students are granted stipends and, in many cases, assistance with housing and travel. Undergraduate students supported with NSF funds must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its territories. 

Shadowing: A program where college students can learn about a particular profession to see if it might be suitable for them.  These informal programs allow students to observe professionals in the workplace.  Some departments allow students to earn credit for a job shadowing experience.  Students should check with their department for details.

Service-learning/Community Service: A mutually beneficial experience for both the student and the community, service learning requires a project to be performed outside of the campus, and often tackles some of society’s complex issues such as homelessness, poverty, lack of quality education, pollution, etc., through community/grassroots organizing, volunteering, and collaborating with community members. Students interested in learning more about UMass Service Learning opportunities should contact Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) at: or the office of Student Affairs and Campus Life at for volunteer opportunities.

Independent Study: An independent study offers students a way to receive academic credit for completing an in-depth examination of a topic related to their course of study.  To pursue an independent study, students need to arrange for faculty supervision and submit a proposal for approval that includes the scope of work to complete, the academic value of the project, and the method for performance evaluation. The number of credits that may be earned for an Independent Study vary but is generally between one and six.  (In SPIRE, Independent Studies are done through the department, and are designated as 296, 396 and 496).

Capstone: A multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students. Capstones are often a combination of knowledge, research, and personal experience that showcase a student’s educational accomplishments. Capstone experiences are managed through individual departments and faculty.

Fellowship: Fellowships provides financial aid to support training of students for a specific amount of time. They are usually provided by educational institutions or foundations to individuals pursuing a course of study or research, either during later college years or after graduation.  The UMass Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA) and individual departments can provide more information about a range of fellowships and scholarships. Note that international students have additional work-visa restrictions related to fellowships.

Graduate Externship:  Graduate externships are training and learning experiences that are substantially relevant to the graduate student’s academic goals and directly augment their programmatic studies. UMass grants tuition credit to graduate students who are in approved externship positions.  Externships must be worked and paid during the semester in which tuition credit is granted (with the exception of the summer), and the stipend paid for externships must meet the campus minimum threshold for tuition credit in any given semester. For more information about graduate externships, go to: