An internship or a co-op is often considered to be nirvana for the college student seeking work experience. The original "co-op" idea—combining academic study with practical work experience—has evolved into a broad-based experiential education program for gaining relevant work experience. The experience gained in an internship/co-op can be the key differentiator for many new college grads. Make no mistake—a successful internship can be your ticket to locking down a job offer (or several job offers) early in your final year.
There are many ways to gain real experience. And any experience you gain will make you a standout in the entry level job market.
Many schools offer academic credit for formal internships. In addition to standard work hours, you may be required to write a term paper to report and reflect on your internship/co-op experience.
Another adaptation of the "internship" term is to refer to summer employment as an "internship." This experience in the field also plays well in your job search, although you should not be concerned with finding summer work specifically listed as an internship. Depending on the size of the employer, if you ask if they offer summer internships, the answer may be "No." However, if you ask if they offer summer jobs in your field, the answer may be "Yes." Why the difference? Because some employers consider internships to be formal training programs in preparation for real work, while summer jobs are simply doing the real work. Whatever is closest to the real work is always the best experience.