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Research, Internships & Service Learning

A research, internship, or service learning placement can give you another chance to engage with the local community. Review some tips and requirements if choosing to participate in these types of experiences abroad.


Tips for Choosing a Research Topic

Several of Northwestern's affiliated study abroad programs provide the opportunity to do an independent study or research project while abroad. Participating students conduct original research, often using a combination of fieldwork methods, such as interviews and archival research. This research abroad is a good foundation for a senior honors thesis or post-graduate research; it also strengthens applications for post-graduate grants, such as Fulbright, Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Start thinking about a topic before you leave campus

  • Most programs that offer research options require you to provide them with project proposals either as part of the application process or before leaving the U.S. Even if they don't, it's important to start thinking about what you would like to research well before departure. Use the following resources as you prepare:

    • Departmental/school advisers: If you wish to receive major, minor or distribution credit for your research, be sure to discuss your plans with advisers in the relevant department/school.
    • Faculty members: If you know you are interested in a particular subject, meet with faculty members who study that subject to discuss your ideas. Use the NU Global Opportunities database to identify faculty who share your interests.
    • Northwestern’s library: Do some initial research into possible topics.
    • Chicago locals with international contacts: Network with people in the Chicagoland area who have connections in the place you hope to study.
    • Northwestern Institutional Review Board: Will your research project need approval? Look into this well before leaving because submitting a research proposal to the IRB can be a lengthy process. For help, contact an adviser in your major department (or in the department most relevant to your topic) or contact the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects at 847-467-1723.

Choose a topic covered in Northwestern undergraduate curriculum

When choosing a topic, remember that Northwestern will not grant credit for courses - including research - that cover subject matter not taught in its undergraduate curriculum.

Internships & Service Learning

For-Credit and Not-for-Credit Options

An internship or service learning placement may be undertaken either for academic credit or as a not-for-credit extracurricular activity.

  • For Academic Credit

    Many of our NU-sponsored and affiliated study abroad programs offer internships and service learning as a part of a regular course load, for which you can earn academic credit. Often the internship placement will be accompanied by a seminar course, scheduled meetings with a supervisor, or both. If you're interested in pursuing an internship or service learning opportunity for credit while abroad, be sure to bring this up when you meet with your academic and study abroad advisers.
  • As an Extracurricular Activity
    If your study abroad program does not offer internships or service learning for credit or you are unable to fit one into your course load, you still may be able to pursue this as an extracurricular activity. Many of our affiliated study abroad programs can arrange these experiences, so be sure to inquire about this during the application process.


Northwestern has the following requirements for for-credit internships and service learning abroad:

  • The internship or service learning must be unpaid
  • The work must be substantial
    • The work must be primarily professional, hands-on experience in the principal activities of the organization.
    • Hours on the job, contact hours with a supervisor or professional staff member, and on-the-job requirements (such as oral presentations, formal written work, or exams) must be substantial enough to provide a meaningful learning experience.
  • The scholarly components of your work must be evaluated
    • A final grade for the internship must be posted to your study abroad transcript and you must earn a C or above. The evaluation must be based on written reports and/or oral presentations, usually including a final research paper in which you examine significant aspects of the field.
    • The topic of the paper should closely relate to the topic of the internship or service learning and draw on your experience. It is the University's hope that students will use final research papers as a basis for undertaking more advanced study back on campus in the form of a senior thesis, independent study, or graduate work.

Ideally, the internship or service learning will be pursued in a field that complements a course of study already being pursued at NU.

Credit Policies and Procedures

Transferring Internship Credit to Northwestern
As long as you earn a letter grade above a "C," the Internship or Service Learning  Seminar course will transfer back to Northwestern as general, elective credit. If you are only seeking general elective credit, eligible credit will automatically be posted to your Northwestern transcript.  If you are seeking major, minor or distribution credit, you will follow the instructions for your school's credit transfer process.

Special Notes:

  • SESP students: You can only count internships or service learning opportunities abroad toward your elective requirements; you cannot petition for major or distribution credit.
  • Medill students: Medill cannot award credit for any type of journalism internship outside the Journalism Residency Program unless the student receives prior approval from the Medill Director of Undergraduate Studies. If you wish to complete an internship or service learning opportunity abroad in a field other than journalism, submit the course syllabus to the Medill undergraduate registrar to determine what credit, if any, can be awarded.