College internships are now invaluable for those seeking employment after their undergraduate years, especially in quintessentially professional fields. However, elevated tuition and living costs mean that college students have less and less time and resources to spend on gaining experience.

Enter the virtual internship, lovechild of the Internet and understaffed corporations. Virtual internships offer paid and unpaid positions to basically anyone with wifi. However, their accessibility does not mean that they are easy to come by or to maintain. It also doesn’t mean that a virtual internship will give you the kind of experience you really need.

Types of Virtual Internships

Most virtual internships are in media, marketing, research, writing, computer science and related fields, though some exist even in areas like wildlife, agriculture and dietetics.

If the work you want to do is primarily digital-based, your odds of finding a virtual internship are likely higher than an in-person internship. If you’re interested in heavily hands-on or interpersonal work, however, a virtual internship probably can’t offer the experience you need even if one exists.

Pros and Cons

Virtual internships are available with major companies in cutting-edge industries and new businesses. This means that you could get an internship with a company based out of a major city even if you lived in the middle of nowhere. It also means that the pool of applicants you’re up against is far larger than that of an in-person internship.

Many applaud the flexible and casual nature of virtual internships. While preparing statistical analyses or updating Twitter in your pajamas at midnight might sound like a brilliant career opportunity, it’s not for everyone. It’s important to note that anyone pursuing a virtual internship should have excellent time management and written communication skills, since there are no supervisors hanging around to make sure interns are getting things done the right way.

A third element of virtual internships is independence. Unlike the traditional image of an intern who makes copies and fetches coffee for everyone in the office, the virtual intern has little to no contact with anyone besides their direct supervisor. This means that your work is truly your own, not just in completion but at every step along the way. It also means that virtual internships offer little opportunity to network, learn office etiquette or develop team-oriented skills.

How to Get a Virtual Internship

If you think a virtual internship is right for you, has excellent search engines for virtual internships and specifically paid virtual internships. These can be filtered by full- or part-time positions, opportunities for payment and college credit requirements.

The Virtual Student Foreign Services of the U.S. Department of State also has a large selection of internships. Applications for these are due by the first of July each year.