Frequently Asked Questions
Am I eligible to be an intern?
- Who can be an intern?
- Do you accept international interns?
- Do you accept high school interns?
- Do I need to have a specific academic major in order to get an internship?
- I'm not a history major! Are there internship opportunities for me?
What's the internship program like?
- What does an internship entail?
- How much time does an internship take?
- Can I get college credit for my internship?
- Will I get paid for my internship?
- Do you offer virtual internships?
- Where can I stay during my internship?
- Why do you offer internships at NMAH?
What should I know about the application process?
- Do I have to know exactly what I want to do before I apply for an internship?
- During what times of year do you host interns?
- Are there deadlines for applications?
- Can I apply for more than one internship at the same time?
- When will I find out if I got an internship?
- What do you look for in an application to the NMAH Internship Program?
Am I eligible to be an intern?
Who can be an intern?
In order to be an intern at NMAH, you must have professional learning goals that can be supported through the mentorship of NMAH staff. Specific qualifications and prerequisites vary depending on the specific internship experience. All interested applicants, international and legal US residents, are encouraged to apply! Please read about our Specific Internship Opportunities and General Application Pools at NMAH before selecting your project choice on your application.
Our internship program does not require our interns to be current students. Rather, the museum welcomes diversity in all respects within its internship program, including but not limited to age, occupation, academic attainment, nationality, and background. While the majority of our interns are current undergraduate or graduate students or recent grads, many of our interns are community college students, professionals changing their career paths, and people without a formal postsecondary background. Due to mentor capacity, our internship program is not open for current high school students at this time.
Additionally, internships can be categorized as generalized or specialized. Generalized internships intend to provide individuals initial experience in the internship project’s field, while specialized internships are intended for individuals who already have experience in the internship project’s field.
Do you accept international interns?
Yes, we do! We are typically able to accept international interns through a J-1 visa, including students in the US currently on a J-1 visa and international applicants who would need to apply for a J-1 visa through Smithsonian sponsorship. You can find out more about the appointment process, including information about applying for J-1 visas, under the “International Appointees” section of the FAQ for Applicants through the Smithsonian’s Office of Academic Appointments and Internships.
Do you accept high school interns?
We currently do not accept high school interns through the NMAH Internship Program. Though we have (very seldomly) hosted professional learning opportunities for high school students in the past, these experiences are always organized through external partnerships with DC-area organizations and are considered separate from the NMAH Internship Program. We encourage high school students who are interested in professional learning experiences to seek out local museums and cultural institutions that offer programming, especially opportunities that are specifically designed to support adolescents.
Do I need to have a specific academic major in order to get an internship?
Not necessarily! In order to achieve our mission, NMAH requires people with a variety of academic background and professional experiences, and the total work of the museum requires more than an understanding of history or American studies. Likewise, individuals with many different academic backgrounds and interests have had successful, productive internships at the museum. Take a moment to explore the museum website, and you will see a variety of exhibits and programs that encompass a wide range of disciplines, including graphic design, community engagement, communications and writing, architecture, and music. Additionally, intern applicants sometimes overlook the important museum support positions, from administration to information technology to the library and archives. Finally, in an institution founded "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," there are many learning opportunities for those interested in education through the museum’s different public programs.
With that said, you should have a demonstrated interest or passion the project for your NMAH internship, and some internships that categorized as “specialized” may require more experience in the internship project’s field.
I'm not a history major! Are there internship opportunities for me?
What's the internship program like?
What does an internship entail?
Internships are professional learning experiences guided by a Smithsonian mentor. Internships relate to interns' specific academic or career goals and include interns learning, practicing, and working on museum projects relevant to each intern's individual learning goals. Interns are expected to undertake professional-level responsibilities during their experience, and our goal is that interns engage in meaningful learning throughout their internship experience. Additionally, all NMAH interns have access to voluntary professional development opportunities, such as (1) workshops on best practices for applying to jobs, networking, and navigating workplace cultures and conflicts as well as (2) support in reaching out to and building meaningful connections with museum staff.
Because internships are learning experiences and not jobs, interns are considered "academic appointees" rather than employees of the Smithsonian. This means that interns are not expected, nor should they be, experts in their field in order to participate in their internship. Rather, interns should be learning from their mentors and colleagues while completing their internship projects.
Each internship experience is unique, depending on the field, available projects, mentorship style, museum happenings, and more. Just think: a collections management internship involving handling and cataloging collections is going to look a lot different than a museum education internship through which the intern develops K-5 teaching resources, and those experiences look a lot different from an internship producing the mounts on which we display our objects or an internship with our marketing team! Regardless, it is our expectation that every internship is a welcoming, meaningful learning experience through which an intern is challenged, supported, and able to grow.
How much time does an internship take?
This varies depending on the internship with a minimum of 16 hours per week and a maximum of 40 hours per week. Typically, our interns participate in their internships at least 20 hours per week for at least 10 weeks. Some internships are specified as full-time (40 hours per week), while others are more flexible and can be arranged between the intern and their mentor. Additionally, some internships are longer than the 10 weeks; internships can be awarded for up to a year if the intern still has more opportunities to learn and grow.
Can I get college credit for my internship?
The museum does not award college credit itself (since it's not a university!), but most U.S. colleges and universities will recognize academic work performed while interning at the museum. Contact your school’s registrar or career planning office for more information.
Will I get paid for my internship?
At NMAH, we are committed to equitable access to our museum and the museum field overall. With this in mind, the NMAH Internship Program provides a minimum total stipend of $500 to defray technology costs (for a virtual internship) or commuting costs (for an in-person internship). Also, after being selected, interns are able to apply for additional stipend funding based on self-disclosed financial need. The total awarded amount of the stipend depends on the availability of museum funds and is at the discretion of NMAH. We are actively working towards increasing the availability of stipends for all NMAH interns.
Internship stipends issued by the Smithsonian are not considered salary or meant as compensation, but are awarded to help defray living expenses for an intern during the term of their appointment. Interns awarded stipends who are U.S. residents for tax purposes are responsible for meeting their individual state and federal tax obligations and will receive a financial summary around March of the following year for the previous calendar year. Interns who are not U.S. residents for tax purposes will receive an IRS Form 1042-S and are likewise responsible for meeting any and all tax obligations.
If an intern is awarded a stipend, stipends cannot be distributed before the start of an internship, and the stipend distribution process takes 6 weeks from the time the Office of Academic Appointments and Internships receives an accepted intern's stipend paperwork, which happens after the timeline of the traditional onboarding process. Stipend payments are released around the 10th and 25th of each month, and the frequency of payments is decided by OAAI depending on the stipend amount. We typically recommend that an intern has at least enough external funding to cover the first month's expenses to accommodate this wait time.
To learn if an individual internship opportunity already offers a stipend, check out the financial information in each internship posting on the Specific Internship Opportunities webpage. Additionally, stipended opportunities are available for a limited number of internships through the Smithsonian’s Office of Academic Appointments and Internships (OAAI).
Do you offer virtual internships?
The short answer is: yes, but it's project-dependent. The NMAH Internship Program has offered ad hoc virtual internships for a long time. However, spurred by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NMAH redeveloped its structure and now consistently offers some virtual internship experiences in addition to our typical in-person internship experiences to help increase access to our professional learning programs for folks who may be unable to relocate to the DC area. With that said, some internship projects are required to be in-person due to the learning goals and responsibilities, such as internships in our Conservation labs or working with our collections.
Though they take place online rather than in-person at the museum and may be a bit more flexible, our virtual internships have several of the components that make for a successful internship experience: mentors who guide interns' professional growth and provide support, projects through which interns achieve their learning goals for the internship, enrichment activities to help specially tailor their internship experience, access to stipends to defray cost of living, and opportunities to attend virtual team meetings, informational interviews, and all-staff opportunities--and a whole lot more!
Where can I stay during my internship?
Interns are required to find their own housing accommodations. For some guidance, please check out the Smithsonian's Office of Academic Appointments and Internships' information on travel and housing for the Washington, DC area. If you're selected for an internship, you'll also receive an informal, unofficial guide to help you prep for your internship, including finding housing.
Why do you offer internships at NMAH?
We offer internships at NMAH in order to support and shape the future of museums and museum leadership. We accomplish this by providing meaningful, supportive professional learning experiences and ensuring equitable and inclusive access to the museum and the museum field.
In this purpose, we aim to foster the development of each individual intern. This means that we not only offer internships for people who are already interested in museum careers, such as our future curators, museum educators, and exhibit developers, but also for for people who just want to learn more about museums and public history alongside their respective fields, such as finance and accounting, instructional design, and project management. A museum is a bit like a ship--it takes a whole community of folks with different background and expertise to keep us sailing--and this means that almost any career you'd want to learn, you can probably learn more about it at a museum!
Do I have to know exactly what I want to do before I apply for an internship?
Kind of. You should have a demonstrated interest or passion is some field or profession that we have here at NMAH, and you should also have some idea about what you would like to learn (content, skills, professional development, "what do I want to do with my life?", etc.) through your internship at NMAH, but you don’t *need* to know specifics projects or staff for whom you’d like to intern.
Additionally, if you’re interested in internship opportunities at other museums and research centers at the Smithsonian as well as more general Smithsonian internships, please visit the Smithsonian’s Office of Academic Appointments and Internships.
During what times of year do you host interns?
Our internship program seasons currently happen on a semester basis. This means we host spring internships (February - May), summer internships (June - August), and fall internships (September - December).
We typically do not offer short-term internships, such as winter or spring break internships.
Are there deadlines for applications?
Yes! There are three internship cycles at NMAH, and each has their own application deadline. Please note that all required components of an application (a resume and learning goals essay) must be submitted on time for your application to be considered "complete." We do not allow for extensions, so be sure to accommodate enough time to double check your application to ensure that it is correct and complete.
Can I apply for more than one internship at the same time?
Yes! Check out the section “Applying for More than One Internship Project” on the How to Apply page.
When will I find out if I got an internship?
At NMAH, applications are reviewed at specific times throughout the year; we do not do rolling application review. The NMAH Internship Program collects all applications through SOLAA and distributes them to potential mentors for review within a week after the application deadline. We employ this process in order to ensure that every application is reviewed thoroughly. Decisions about intern selection are then expected to be made within four-six weeks of the application deadline.
What do you look for in an application to the NMAH Internship Program?
The first step in submitting a successful application is to do it correctly! Be sure to read through and follow all of the instructions listed on the "How to Apply" page of our website.
For your learning goals essay, be specific when you can! For example, it's helpful to specifically state what you're hoping to learn during your internship (such as content, technical skills, and professional development), as well as where or with whom (departments, staff members, etc.) you're hoping to learn it.
Be sure to always double check to make sure you're responding specifically to the prompt on our website. It's also important to try to balance providing adequate information (about your interests, experiences, goals, etc.) and being succinct, making sure that everything in your essay is there for a reason. It's also great to showcase your personality in your writing!
It's also critical to note that, just because your application didn't get selected doesn't mean it was a bad application; it may just mean that we received a huge number of applicants each semester and had fewer available projects than we'd expected.
How can I get more information?
For more general information about internships across the Smithsonian, you can check the FAQ for Applicants from the Smithsonian's Office Academic Appointments and Internships. You can also use this contact form to submit an email to the NMAH Interns and Fellows Program Manager or call (202) 633-3556, and we'll be happy to help answer your questions!