Student practicums are hands-on work experiences that are completed as part of a degree program, typically for college credit and usually completed without pay. Unlike an internship, which may or may not be paid, practicums are almost never paid. Students in many different types of degree programs might be required to complete practicum experiences. Students earning teaching degrees often required to complete student teaching practicums, making these some of the most common. Student practicums may sometimes be required for virtually any type of degree program, however, from bachelor's degrees to advanced graduate degrees.
Though they may be based in different fields of study, most student practicums are similarly designed. The student will be required to complete a certain number of hours of hands-on work with at least one organization separate from the school he or she is attending. For this work, the student will earn a predetermined amount of credits toward his or her degree. Usually the student will have two supervisors throughout this process; a faculty supervisor from his or her department or degree program, and a supervisor at the business or organization for which she is working. Many schools will also require students to produce a final project, body of work, or portfolio, as well as a report summarizing their practicum experiences.
The type of hands-on work that is completed during student practicums will vary based on the student's chosen degree program. Student teachers, for instance, will generally have a few weeks of observation followed by the remaining weeks of actual student teaching. Students in different fields might be assigned a specific project to work on in order to learn new skills and get actual work experience. Others in scientific degree programs might get to perform lab work or field work related to their degree. Most student practicums will last the entirety of one academic semester, which should give students plenty of time to observe as necessary, actively work, and then complete their reports if needed.
By definition, student practicums are designed to give students a beneficial, practical, learning experience in their field of interest. As a result, it is largely up to the student to find a practicum that is appropriate for his or her specific interests and career goals, and ensure that the job duties and expectations are clearly defined ahead of time. It will not be beneficial for the student, if he or she simply sits and answers the phone all day. Some academic departments may, however, maintain a list of such organizations that students have used successfully in the past, so it is worth checking.