Work-integrated learning can be a valuable part of a student’s collegiate experience. Among the most common WIL experiences has been the internship, which is “a form of experiential education that exists to introduce practical realities and processes to students while reinforcing the lessons learned in the traditional classroom” (Barbarash 2016, 1). Although the internship provides tremendous value, access to internships is not equal for all students (Hora, Forbes, and Preston 2020). The purpose of this blog post is to highlight some of the struggles and barriers that students seeking an internship confront. This blog post will center on institution type, enrollment status, and academic program, and how these three factors influence a student’s overall participation in an internship.

Despite numerous internships being available, there are a lot of reasons why a student might not get the opportunity to participate in an internship. Some people tend to look past the “behind-the-scenes” efforts of getting an internship and the logistics that go into obtaining an internship. Looking at institution type, enrollment status, and academic programs, and how these three factors play a role in who gets an internship, is beneficial to those receiving internships and those offering internships.

Institution Type

When discussing types of higher education institutions, research often broadly classifies schools into different types, such as universities or colleges, private versus public institutions, and two-year schools or four-year schools. In addition, research also separates institutions based on the type of student typically served, such as historically black colleges or universities (HBCU) or predominately white institutions (PWI).

Institution type has a direct influence on the overall participation of students in an internship. A study conducted by Hora, Chen, Parrott, and Her (2020) highlights this specific relationship and the role institution plays. There were three institutions that were discussed in this study, with each institution having a different population of students. The study followed a predominantly white institution (PWI), a historically black college or university (HBCU), and a technical college. Those attending the PWI reported having the most internships, and those at the HBCU reported having the least amount of internships. The study also showed that students attending the technical college and the HBCU reported higher levels of participation in a paid internship versus those attending the predominantly white school. This study provides information that supports the idea that institution type plays a role in getting an internship and the overall experience someone might have in an internship.

Enrollment Status

There is limited research on the relationship between internships and enrollment status. However, what has been done supports the idea that enrollment status does play a role in who is getting an internship and who is not. In the same study mentioned above (Hora, Chen, Parrott, and Her 2020), data was collected showing the difference in participation in internships based on full-time versus part-time status. Those who were enrolled as a full-time student reported much higher participation in an internship than those enrolled as a part-time student. Because there has not been a significant amount of research conducted on this topic, it is hard to say what the overall influence enrollment status has on internship participation.

Academic Program

The type of academic program that participants are in also plays a crucial role in their overall experience with an internship. Depending on the academic program a participant is in, it can assist with greater overall satisfaction and can also assist with a student’s overall professional development. Academic programs that require an internship guarantee more participation from students than those academic programs that do not require an internship. Overall, academic programs provide a positive impact for those looking to participate in an internship.

What can be seen through the research that has been conducted on this topic is that each of these three subtopics play a big role in the overall success of a participant in an internship. More research needs to be done on this topic. There needs to be more additional research conducted to ensure that these specific aspects are improved for future internship participants. A very important aspect that I did not discuss in this blog post was race, and the impact race has on internship participation. In my next blog post, I will go into further detail about the impact and importance of race when it comes to internship participation.


Barbarash, David. 2016. “Knowledge and Skill Competency Values of an Undergraduate University Managed Cooperative Internship Program: A Case Study in Design Education.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education 17 (1): 21-30.

Hora, Matthew, Zi Chen, Emily Parrott, and Pa Her. 2020. “Problematizing College Internships: Exploring Issues with Access, Program Design and Developmental Outcomes. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning 21 (3): 235-252.

Hora, Matthew T., Jacqueline Forbes, and Deshawn Preston. 2020. What Do We Know about Internships at the HBCUs? A Review of the Literature and Agenda for Future Research. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, 2020, Research Brief #13.

Annelise Weaver is a 2022-2025 CEL Student Scholar. She is collaborating with participants in the 2022-2024 research seminar on work-integrated learning. Learn more about the current student scholars.

How to Cite this Post

Weaver, Annelise. 2023. “Identifying Factors that Influence WIL Participation.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. May 16, 2023.