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SL vs. Internships

Although unpaid internships probably have the closest relationship to Service-Learning,

Some Key Differences are Found in:

  • PURPOSE: Internships focus on job training and career networking. Service-learning focuses on applying classroom learning in a non-profit community setting to meet community needs.
  • METHOD: Internships require a summary paper and an evaluation. Service-learning involves ongoing written and in-class reflection connecting the service with course material.
  • STRUCTURE: Internships are considered a course in and of themselves. Service-learning is integrated within a existing course.
  • DURATION: Service-learning often complements internships by providing students with shorter-term community experiences which can help them refine or redirect their goals for longer internships.


Volunteerism is the engagement of students in activities where the primary emphasis is on the service being provided and the primary intended beneficiary is clearly the service recipient. It is not linked to the students’ coursework nor to academic credit.

Community Service

Community service is the engagement of students in activities that primarily focus on the service being provided as well as the benefits the service activities have on the recipients (e.g., providing food to the homeless during the holidays). The students receive some benefits by learning more about how their service makes a difference in the lives of the service recipients. It may reflect coursework, but not credit.

Field Education

Field Education programs provide students with co-curricular service opportunities that are related, but not fully integrated, with their formal academic studies. Students perform the service as part of a program that is designed primarily to enhance students’ understanding of a field of study, while also providing substantial emphasis on the service being provided.


Service-Learning programs are distinguished from other approaches to experiential education by their intention to equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being provided and the learning that is occurring. Another component unique to Service-Learning is classroom-based critical reflection.