How Many Internships Should I Apply To?

As your college experience marches on, you need to make sure you’re prepared for your future. Sure, going to class is a good way to understand your field. However, you’ll get much more meaningful insight from internships.

So how many internships should you apply to? We’ll take a look at this question in this article. We’ll learn the purpose of internships, review different types of internships, and discuss the length of internships before addressing the big question.

So, what’s the purpose of an internship, anyway?

Purpose of an Internship

As you’re thinking about how many internships to apply to, you need to remember the purpose of an internship. An internship will give you real-world experience that your classmates won’t have. It will give your résumé valuable line items that help you to stand apart from others during the employment screening process.

Some person is sitting at their desk and screening a ton of résumés while considering someone for a role. Two equal candidates can be separated with internship experience.

At the end of the day, an internship will either directly convert into a job, or place you favorably for an internship. Internships show employers that you have experience, willingness to work, and drive. It also shows potential employers that you would rather work and learn as opposed to party and socialize.

This should fuel you as you look for internships.

Types of Internships

There are different types of internships that you might find as you shop around. Understand what you’re looking for before you shop around for a company to intern at. Some of the more common types of internships are seat-fillers, free internships, and internships that convert to a career.

Keep in mind, these are generalizations of the internship world from personal experience.


Some companies are just looking to fill a seat. Companies can use their intern program to boast in their respective industry. They can claim that they are looking towards the future because they hire X interns a year, and the company is focused on improving. These companies have no problem paying for an intern to sit around, and not really do anything.

Consider this option if you’re looking to pad your résumé, and you’re opting for a “shotgun technique” (described later in this article).

Free Internship

Free internships are typically offered at Fortune 500 companies. These roles include a lot of hands-on experience, help you make connections, and give you a great understanding of the industry and role. These skills will help tremendously as you shop around for jobs.

The companies can justify not paying you because you’ll be connected with amazing programs, people, and opportunities. Some common examples of free internships are offered at Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Dow Chemical.

Free internships should be considered for people looking to hone their skills and maximize their time spent in an intern role. You should be serious about your future career. This option pays you nothing today, so you can hopefully make much more tomorrow.

Converting to a Career

Internships that convert to a career are one of the more common options. Employers are getting a discounted trial period of you. They will test you, keep an eye on your work ethic, and understand how you work as an employee.

These internships could last weeks, months, or years. If the employer doesn’t think you’re a good fit for the company, it’s easy to fire you and find another candidate. However, if you prove yourself, then you are in a good position to get a job offer from them when you graduate.

Internships that convert to careers are good for people focused on specific companies and industries. It’s also a good choice for people focusing on advancement opportunities.

How Long is the Term?

The length of the term depends on how well you work, and what type of internship it is. The most common term is the length of your summer break. Companies will utilize your time off and allow you to work towards your future.

Other internships could last until you graduate and become a full-time employee there.

How Many Internships Should I Apply To?

The ultimate answer to the question is complicated. There are two schools of thought here: either apply to every company in driving distance or you can use extreme focus and choose a handful of companies. Companies don’t really know how many internships you’re applying to unless you tell them, so this is ultimately your decision.

Let’s review either technique.

Apply to Every Possible Company

The first approach is to apply to every possible company in the area. Some people call this a “shotgun technique”. It plays on the idea of padding your chances by using statistics. You can imagine it’s like shooting a hundred half-court shots; one of them is bound to go in.

These companies might be fielding dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of applications. Sure, you might just be one application in the pool of applications, but you’re popping up in so many different pools that you have a higher chance of being picked.

This is especially true in college towns or areas that have acclaimed schools in the field (for example, San Diego has a lot of engineering internship opportunities due to the giant pool of college engineering students).

If nothing else, it increases your odds of getting accepted to a program.

Focus on a Few

Another popular technique is to focus on a few companies. These companies are either directly aligned with your desired career, or they hold a lot of weight in your field. If you know someone in the industry, this is the suggested path.

Learn everything about a few companies and apply, follow up, and reach out. Let them know you’re serious and want to work for them.

For example: Suppose you want to build planes when you graduate college. You can apply to Steve’s Planes, a small company that builds planes that will give you direct, hands-on experience. Alternatively, you can work for Boeing, just filling a seat and filing papers 8 hours a day. Depending on your future employer, these two options might hold the same weight.


Now you have the understanding to make your decision. Keep in mind what kind of internship you’re looking for, and what you value when it comes to these different opportunities.

If you’re still wondering “how many internships should I apply to?” — Now it’s time to start applying.

Decide either to hand-pick the companies, or use the “shotgun technique” and get to work!