What is the difference between a placement and internship?

These terms are often used interchangeably. Imperial College London Careers Service uses the terms in the following way:

Internship – A short period of work experience, e.g. up to 12 weeks, which normally takes place outside of term time. Internships might be in a sector or field unrelated to your area of study, and do not normally form part of your course, unless you have applied to undertake an internship for extra ECTS credit.

Placement – A placement in industry is a validated work experience opportunity that is assessed and accredited towards your Imperial degree classification. Often referred to as a ‘year in industry’ or ‘commercial placement’, industrial placements are an opportunity for you to put into practice your academic skills and knowledge within a professional setting.   

Insights - Many investment banks, financial services companies and other organisations run Spring and Summer 'Insight’ programmes or 'Spring weeks' designed for first year students or second year students on four year courses. The insight programmes often include training courses or work shadowing opportunities rather than actual work and are designed to give an introduction to the sector. These insight programmes will help you gain a formal internship in your penultimate year.

What are the other ways to get experience?

There are other ways to gain the skills and experience that employers are looking for, where you can apply your academic knowledge in a professional setting.    

Voluntary work – allows you to get involved with different projects in the UK or abroad, which will give you the transferrable skills that employers are keen to see. Volunteering can provide you with the chance to apply.  We advertise opportunities with UK registered charities on JobsLiveDo-it is also a useful resource.

Part-time/Seasonal or Casual work – Don’t underestimate part-time work opportunities as they can be a great way to develop transferrable skills, such as customer service, communication and interpersonal skills.

Work shadowing/informational interviewing – If you know someone that works in a particular industry it can be useful to ask to meet to speak with them about their role or industry. You could also ask to shadow them at work to understand their role and whether it might suit you. First year undergraduate students can apply for the Work Shadowing Scheme.

Should I get paid for a placement or internship?

The Careers Service believes that you should get paid and therefore we do not advertise any unpaid vacancies on JobsLive, because it contravenes the National Minimum Wage act. The only exception to this is if you are completing an industrial placement as part of your degree. Any unpaid vacancies on JobsLive will be for roles with a charity or statutory body, or opportunities that do not involve any actual work such as a work shadowing opportunity or company insight event.

How should an employer look after my health and safety during my placement or internship?

The Health and Safety Executive set out guidelines for employers regarding what they must do to ensure their employees work in safe environment. This includes making sure you have access to washing facilities, drinking water, first aid equipment and that a risk assessment has taken place. They must also have Employer Liability Insurance. These guidelines also apply to temporary workers.

When you undertake an industrial placement as part of your degree programme, or an internship for extra-ECTS credit, the College has a responsibility for your health and safety, as well as your personal and academic welfare throughout your placement. Your academic department will always lead on managing your industrial placement, and you should always check with the relevant member of staff in your department in the first instance for guidance. Visit the Registry webpages for more information on the College’s approach to placements.

I’m an international student; can I do a placement or internship?

There are no restrictions for students from the European Economic Area (EEA) who wish to do a placement or internship.

Most international students will be entitled to work up to 20 hours each week during term time and there is no restriction of hours for work during the holidays. Our pages for international students and also the Imperial College London international office have more information on this. For employment in some sectors it may be required that you have been resident in the UK for a certain period of time for security reasons.

If you are doing a placement as a compulsory part of your course, then overseas students do not require work permits. However, if you require a work permit in the long term then some companies will not consider you for a placement or internship, because they use these work experience opportunities as an extended recruitment exercise.

Placements in Europe (Convention de Stage Information)

A Convention de Stage is a type of contact used in several European countries to facilitate short-term work placements. They form a three-way, or tripartite, agreement that sets out various legal obligations between a student, their university, and a host organisation. The documents are very common in France and Spain but other countries may also require a Convention de Stage, or similar tripartite agreement, to undertake a placement or internship.

If your work placement forms an assessed part of your degree programme:

Imperial College can support your completion of a Convention de Stage if your work placement forms a formal assessed part of your degree programme e.g. a compulsory placement component or year abroad. Students in this position should speak to their academic department for relevant advice and guidance.

If your work placement does not form an assessed part of your degree programme:

Imperial College cannot support your completion of a Convention de Stage if your work placement does not form a formal assessed part of your degree programme (e.g. it is an extracurricular summer internship). Instead, we can provide an alternative tripartite agreement via the Careers Service. Students in this position should contact the Placement and Internship Unit with details of your opportunity and the host organisation. Your request will be reviewed, and provided it meets our criteria we will issue you with documentation to complete with the employer. Our tripartite agreement has been approved for College use however it is an alternative to a Convention de Stage and therefore it may not be accepted by your host organisation.

Additional Information:

You must be a registered student at Imperial College for the full duration of the placement/internship and agreements cannot be issued to pre-entry students or graduates of the College.

I’m going on placement as part of my course; do I still have to pay fees?

Visit the tuition fees page to find information on reduced fees for Students on a Year in Industry/Research. These vary according to your faculty and course start date. For any other placement or internship you will be charged the full fee.

My department does not offer a placement year but I would like to do one. What can I do?

It may be possible for you to do this if you take a study break. You would need to apply to Registry for an interruption of studies. If you took this option you would not be considered as a registered student for that year. International students should seek advice from the International Office regarding visa conditions.