Internship or work-study: what to choose?

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Alternation and internships are two well-known training systems. However, it is not often clear what the difference is between the two. Contrary to what most people think, the main difference is legal and not in terms of school rhythm.

The alternating rhythm allows a student to have a practical training within a company and a theoretical training in school. During the month, the student’s schedule is “alternated” according to the rhythm 3 weeks / 1 week or 3 days / 2 days in the company and at the school. The work-study program (i.e. professionalization contract or apprenticeship contract) and the internship can follow the same schedule.

In this article, we will look in more detail at the difference between work-study and internship. We will see later on which of these two types of training is more beneficial for both the student and the company.

What’s the difference between a work-study student and an intern?

The first difference between an internship and a work-study program alternation lies in the work contract within the company. A work-study student is subject to the Labor Code, whereas an intern is hired after signing an internship agreement, without an employment contract. Then, you should also know that the duration of the work-study contract can be up to three years depending on the length of the training. While an internship contract is only for a maximum of six months.

As far as remuneration is concerned, the salary of a work-study student is entirely paid by the host company. It varies according to the nature of the contract signed, the age of the student and the year of the work-study program. A work-study student can receive a salary starting at 27% of the SMIC or even 100% depending on his or her situation. He is also within his rights to ask for a salary increase. The school’s tuition fees are paid by the company’s OPCO and the remainder is paid by the company itself. Thanks to the state aid, this balance is almost non-existent. The training is therefore entirely free for the student.

The trainee is responsible for his or her own tuition fees. He/she will receive a bonus if and only if the internship exceeds two months; a negotiable bonus whose minimum amount is calculated according to the hourly ceiling of the Social Security. What interns have in common with work-study students are certain benefits such as the reimbursement of travel expenses and the receipt of meal tickets.

As far as vacations are concerned, the alternating student is entitled to five weeks of paid vacations if he or she has been with the company for more than one year. The trainee, on the other hand, is not entitled to school vacations or paid leave.

Work experience or internship? Make the right choice.

In light of these comparisons, it is obvious that for a student, an internship contract is less interesting than a work-study contract in terms of salary and tuition coverage. In both cases, students, whether in alternation or not, have the opportunity to train well and obtain their diploma, while becoming familiar with the professional world. In addition, if the student proves himself/herself within the host company, he/she has the possibility of seeing his/her apprenticeship contract transformed into a fixed-term or permanent contract.

However, the training course remains very interesting in the following cases:

  • to do an internship in a company abroad, because French labor law and therefore the work-study program do not apply there
  • do an internship in a public institution
  • have a first professional experience. Recruiting a trainee has a cost, for a first unqualified experience, young people will direct their research to internships which will be easier to find. The 1st and 2nd year Bachelors at INSEEC only do internships, which allow them to vary their experiences and periods of discovery in companies.
  • a pre-employment before the work-study contract. It is not uncommon to see a 3rd year Bachelor doing a 6 month pre-recruitment internship before signing a 24 month work-study contract for their Master’s degree.
  • the choice of a very specific company. Your dream company in the ultra luxury sector only takes interns? Well, you are ready to take the step because you are sure that it is a good investment in the long term to integrate into the network. The same goes for start-ups, which often lack the means to recruit, so why not start with an internship of less than two months before acquiring capital?

Nowadays, most companies prefer to recruit students with solid professional experience from internships or work-study contracts. For companies in partnership with schools, recruiting work-study students is an effective way to meet a current need for workers, especially for positions for which it is difficult to find suitable profiles.

Recruiting work-study students will also give a new dynamic to the company. Indeed, newly hired young students will bring a different perspective to the job. This could prove to be effective, as they have recent knowledge on digital topics and up-to-date work techniques (excel in particular which is in high demand). To compensate for the efforts made by companies in training employees on work-study contracts, numerous aids have been set up to reduce the cost of work-study for the company. For example, the apprenticeship contract gives access to a regional aid for a total or partial exemption of social charges on the contract and the apprenticeship tax credit. A work-study program under a professionalization contract allows for a reduction or exemption of all employer contributions.

Then it’s time to apply!


And for any other questions you may have, you can read our Frequently Asked Questions, attend an information meeting or be contacted by our teams.

Updated 10 August 2022