Field Experience Definitions
Broadly speaking, field experiences are structured learning opportunities that a student can engage in outside of the classroom. Field experiences are intended to help students develop skills related to their major, as well as competencies that will serve them in a variety of professional settings.
There are many ways to gain professional experiences as a college student, but it can be challenging to parse which type of experience will be right for any given student. The following definitions are meant to help clarify the difference between the various field experiences potentially available to a UMass Amherst student.
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: during the fall or spring semester, over winter break, or during the summer. During the academic semester, students can go on internship full or part-time while also taking classes. Unlike a part-time job, an internship has a career focus and includes learning objectives. Students bring the knowledge they have learned in the classroom and apply this knowledge to the internship experience where they gain skills and further understanding of the industry. The workplace supervisor provides guidance and feedback to facilitate the learning process. The employer also provides an evaluation at the end of the internship.
There are a range of experiences that qualify as “internship” including those for pay, those for credit, micro-internships, and formal internship programs. The University adheres to and expects employers to follow Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid internships. The University, not the employer, determines if an internship is eligible for credit. Note that credit must be both earned and paid for by the student. To be eligible for credit, students must work for an employer for a minimum of 40 hours AND complete academic work (a project, a writing assignment, an art/music piece, a computer model, for example) as assigned by their academic sponsor. In SPIRE internships are usually listed as UMASS 298, 398 or 498, or through the department-specific courses such as JOURNAL 298 or POLISCI 298.
Credited internships require a faculty sponsor to determine the applicable number of credits (UMass guideline is 1 credit hour for every 40 hours of work) and to assign the related academic project. If students do not have a GPA of at least a 2.0+ with 45 credits completed before beginning an internship, an Academic Dean’s permission signature is required. International students have additional work-visa restrictions related to paid internships; contact the UMass International Programs Office for more details about Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
A full-time paid work experience that is at least 30 hours per week directly for an employer where the work is clearly related to the student’s major.
Co-ops are not for academic credit; the student must earn at least minimum wage. Students must receive permission from their academic department to participate in a co-op. If students do not have a GPA of at least a 2.0+ with 45 credits completed before beginning a co-op, an Academic Dean’s permission signature is required. International students have additional work-visa restrictions related to co-ops; contact the UMass International Programs Office for more details about Curricular Practical Training (CPT). All students must submit a completed co-op contract and required forms, provide a log of hours worked, and a final self-evaluation. Employers must provide a co-op position description and complete a post-co-op evaluation.
Co-ops occur during the fall or spring semester and may extend into the summer or winter sessions (4-9 months in duration); however, a summer or winter-only job is not a co-op. While on co-op, students are put on “co-op” status with the registrar which is reflected on the transcript upon successful completion of the co-op experience. During this time, students are still considered “full-time;” however, they do not pay tuition unless also taking courses through UWW (may take up to two courses).
A REQUIRED work/training 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. In some fields such as healthcare, practicums require a signed affiliation agreement with the employer that is managed through the academic departments.
Programs funded by an external source, such as the National Science Foundation, that consist of a group of undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution.
Each student is associated with a specific research project, where he/she/they 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.
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.
A mutually beneficial experience for both the student and the community that often tackles some of society’s complex issues such as homelessness, poverty, lack of quality education, pollution, etc.
A way to receive academic credit for completing an in-depth, self-directed examination/research that is overseen by a faculty member.
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 varies but is generally between one and six. (In SPIRE, Independent Studies are done through the department, and are usually designated as 296, 396 and 496).
Programs that provide financial aid to support training of students for a specific time.
Fellowships 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.
Hybrid programs between job shadowing and an internship.
Externships are usually shorter in duration than an internship (a few days-a few weeks), include observation and informational interviewing of the industry professional, and may include a small project. However, the term “externship” in some fields, such as the legal field, is more closely aligned with a rigorous internship. At UMass Amherst, graduate externships are training and learning experiences that are substantially relevant to the graduate student’s academic goals and directly augment their programmatic studies. For more information about graduate externships, go to: https://www.umass.edu/graduate/funding/externship-policies-procedures