Planning ahead

Early Deadline Internships

While most internships have deadlines that are six weeks before the start of the internship period, there are a few that are six months before the start of the internship period.  These include the State Department, the White House, and any internship offered within the Intelligence Community (think FBI, CIA, and NGA).  These types of internships generally have application deadlines between October and December for the summer because these internships require security clearance. 

National and political newspapers, such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Economist, may also have early internship dates. These types of internships can be very valuable to those interested in journalism and political journalism. Many of those in high positions at the Washington Post started out as interns. Also, interns regularly have their own stories published, allowing them to gain exposure and build their portfolio of writing samples.

It is definitely a great idea to start your search early and compile an Excel database that lists deadlines, material requested (cover letter, letters of recommendation, resume, etc), and any other relevant information. Further, in requesting letters of recommendations from teachers, employers, or advisers, give them at least 4 weeks to write it so they do not feel rushed.

House of Representatives

Interning in the House of Representatives: 

Offices in the House of Representatives typically have staffs of 15, with half being adminstrative and the other half being legislative. The legislative and press staff usually share an open plan room and space is tight. As an intern you may be required to share a desk with another intern, and you will likely spend part of your day at the front desk.


Interns typically are expected to answer phones, sort, and sometimes respond to constituent mail, conduct tours of the Capitol for constituents, and may be assigned special projects. Interns may also have the opportunity to conduct research on a new or developing issue area, draft talking points, help with casework (constituent requests for help) and attend hearings.


Through an internship with a member of the House of Representatives, interns will gain a thorough understanding of the legislative process, the roles of staff members, and the work of a Member of Congress. Internships are often the first rung in the ladder of Congressional employment. The experience of a Congressional internship as well as the contacts made will be helpful when it comes time to apply for entry level positions in a Congressional office upon graduation.


Interning in the Senate:

Offices in the Senate typically have up to 40 staff members. Generally, the office is divided into three sections: staff handling policy (i.e. legislative assistants and the director), staff handling constituent concerns (i.e. legislative correspondents) and the press office. In the summer, a Senate office will have anywhere from 3 to 7 interns, with some finding room for 10 or more. The number of interns depends on the physical size of the office, which, depends on the Senator’s seniority, the location of his/her office, and the population of the state he/she represents.


All interns are expected to help the staff assistants in answering phones, sorting constituent mail, responding to constituent mail, and conducting tours of the Capitol for constituents, as well as many other things. One intern was asked to save a field on the mall for office softball games! The press office may take interns who are particularly interested in press issues, which would require arriving at the office early to send out a staff email and go through articles mentioning the Senator. Occasionally, an intern may get the opportunity to conduct research on a new or developing issue area, draft talking points, and attend hearings.


Interns will gain a thorough understanding of the roles of each member of the staff and the busy life of a Senator, as well as learn about different paths to becoming senior staff in a Senate office (many senior staff started as interns!)

White House

Interning at the White House: 

Arriving at the White House complex each morning will likely give you a bit of a thrill every day of your internship. The White House accepts upwards of 100 interns each summer. Approximately 70% of White House interns will be assigned to the Correspondence Office, where responsibilities may range from making copies and answering phones to helping tourists and responding to mail.  Penn students have also interned for the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, in communications, for the President’s chief of staff, and in the Office of the First Lady. Visit here to read about the various types of assignments available.

Federal Agency

Interning for a Federal Agency:

In addition to the White House, the executive branch of the federal government includes departments, agencies, government corporations, boards, commissions, and committees. Each of these bodies are extremely specialized and have very different organizational structures, meaning a wide array of internship positions.

Interning in one of these offices could be one way to get very close to the day-to-day functioning of the government. Federal agencies often use internships as a way to recruit individuals for full-time work, so choosing an internship in an issue area that is of particular interest to you could well lead to employment after college or at the very least some well-placed references.

Advocacy Organizations & Think Tanks

Interning for an Advocacy Organization:

There is a vast range of non-profit organizations in Washington representing particular interests. Many of these organizations have limited resources, which means they usually don’t have enough staff to do everything they would like to do and are not able to pay high salaries to the staff they have.

As a result, these non-profit organizations tend to have a staff that is committed to the organization’s cause. Also staff members are often given freedom to take on new projects, which can be an opportunity to establish themselves as an authority on an issue. Importantly for you, unpaid interns are generally welcome and are often provided the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the work of the organization. An intern working for an advocacy organization may be asked to prepare reports or fact sheets that the organization will publish, to prepare testimony, or to conduct research on a new issue area. This is an excellent choice for a student who wants to work on a particular issue area, such as children’s health, tax policy, or minority issues, as well as could lead to full-time work with an advocacy organization or simply give you experience that will make you a stronger candidate for positions in Congress or in one of the federal agencies.


Interning for a Think Tank:

There are a number of think tanks in Washington that are very well funded and have large staffs and have well-organized internship programs. Center for American Progress and American Enterprise Institute both have large internship programs with solid reputations. Typically the application will ask you to rank your preferences from a list of offices currently taking interns, and then your application will be routed accordingly. Interning at a think tank is likely to involve significant research and writing. Be sure that your political ideology matches the organization’s.

Lobbying Firm

Interning for a Lobbying Firm: 

Like advocacy organizations, lobbying firms exist to persuade Congress and federal agencies to act in particular ways, depending upon their clients and their interests. Unlike advocacy organizations, lobbying firms are free to contribute to political campaigns, are typically much better funded (as they are paid very well by their clients), and work on a range of issues depending on the needs of their clients.


Students have also reported that they have attended and summarized Congressional hearings, made frequent visits to the hill for meetings, and prepared and delivered briefings for clients.


Students who are interested in the interface between paid lobbyists and policy-making might find this an interesting choice. Interns working for a lobbying firm will typically be paid.

Political Organization

Interning for a Political Organization:

By all accounts, interning at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Republican National Committee, or a similar organization, is in-the-thick-of-it and a face-paced experience.


The responsibilities of an intern will vary depending on the department to which you are assigned. The DCCC’s website has a good description of their departments and duties. 


If you are thinking you might run for office one day, this would be a good way to figure out if campaigning is for you.