For Students

Every student who decides to major or minor in Urban Studies is required to complete an unpaid internship for which they receive 2 cu’s through the course, Fieldwork (URBS300). Students are expected to spend 15 hours per week working at the internship site and to attend a weekly seminar designed to help structure the internship learning experience.

Among recent student Fieldwork placements are non-profits in various fields, such as education, the environment, urban agriculture, and the arts; city government agencies, including the Philadelphia City Planning Commission; private sector and non-profit development organizations; legislative offices of city council; and journalism outlets, including PlanPhilly and The Public School Notebook.  There are hundreds of agencies on the Fieldwork Database that you can search by topic.

In the fall, you will be invited to attend an orientation for students planning to do Fieldwork in the spring semester and you will start your search in order to pin down a placement before classes start in the spring. Once you settle on an internship site, you must complete a fieldwork placement form and submit it to your instructor or directly to the Urban Studies office.

If for any reason you foresee difficulty fulfilling the 15 hour per week requirement, please have a conversation with Elaine Simon as far in advance of your spring junior year as possible, to hear about options and to discuss a plan.

Fieldwork FAQ

  • When do students enroll in Fieldwork?

The fieldwork seminar is held every spring semester. Students typically enroll while in their junior year. Urban Studies students who wish to take a semester abroad should plan to do so in the fall term. Meet with Elaine Simon if you anticipate any special problems with taking fieldwork in the spring term.

  • How do I find an internship site?

First, you need to determine what interests you want to explore. Think about what courses you really enjoyed, what topics inspire you, or what career path you might be considering.

The Urban Studies office maintains a database of agencies that have hosted student interns in the past or have expressed an interest in having an intern. The database is organized by topic, such as architecture, planning, economic development, arts, etc. and is searchable by agency name, topic of interest, or last recent placement. Each entry includes a description of the agency, the type of work interns are expected to do, and contact information. Note: While we try to keep the information current, not every agency updates the information each year. You can determine how recent the agency’s information is by checking the year it was updated.  You should also check their website to assure you have the most current information about opportunities and initial contact person, or check in with Elaine for recent information.

You are not limited to agencies that are listed on the database.  Use your networks - fellow students, faculty, family, etc. and ask about settings that engage in the work that interests you. There are also many associations of certain types of organizations who publish a list of member organizations on the web. You can check our fieldwork links for some examples.

Once you have a list of agencies that interest you, prepare a cover letter for each one and send it with your resume, just as you would to apply for any paid position. Refer to the UPenn Career Services web page for sample documents and other tips on protocol. Also include a copy of the URBS Fieldwork Factsheet to assure the agency contact person will have a clear picture of our program and what is expected of student interns. Email is usually the preferred method of communication, but you should check the agency's website to confirm. Plan to interview at a minimum of 2-3 different settings to assure you will have a good fit.

  • How can I find out how about other students’ internship experiences?

If an agency has been a site in the past, Urban Studies has collected student evaluations of their experiences and included them on the database for each agency for you to review.  Not all agencies that have had interns in the past have an evaluation included, but many do have one or more evaluations.  You can also talk to seniors who completed Fieldwork.

  • When should I begin looking for a site?

You must have a placement by the time that the spring semester begins, so you need to plan in advance. How early This depends on the agency where you want to work. Some companies make hiring decisions for the spring term as early as October of the previous year, to assure they will be able to staff certain projects. While it is advisable to begin looking for a site as soon as possible, many students do not finalize their placement until the end of the fall term.

  • What if I am abroad in the fall term?

The process for selecting a site while abroad is much the same for students on campus, but you will need to rely more heavily on the URBS online database (described above) to search for agencies. Choose several agencies that interest you and email the list to Elaine Simon ( along with a statement of what interests you have and what you hope to get out of the internship. Elaine will provide feedback and make other suggestions if necessary. Contact the agencies by email as specified above and request an interview for early January or whenever you will be back on campus. You should have already received confirmation from your top priority placements before returning, which will give you a couple of weeks to finalize your placement.

  • How many hours do I need to work?

You should spend approximately 15 hours per week at the internship site for a total of at least 200 hours over the course of the semester.

  • When should I begin working?

Do not wait until after the first URBS 300 class meeting to begin your internship experience. Depending on the Penn academic calendar, the first class may not meet until late in January, and you will need to put in some time working before then both to assure you will be able to complete the required number of hours and to bring some of your experiences to engage in the first class meeting. Fill this form out once your placement site has been finalized.

  • What happens in the weekly fieldwork seminar?

The purpose of this seminar is to provide you with an academic anchor to your urban studies internship. In the seminar, you will complete a set of assignments in which you 1) analyze your internship from various perspectives, 2) specify and document your learning, and 3) connect your practical experience with academic theory and research. This third activity can be a starting point for thinking about a senior research project.  You will also read and discuss some key works in Urban Studies that will form a theoretical backdrop for the course and to your mastery of the urban studies literature.

  • What if I have special concerns about my placement once the semester has begun?

Discuss any questions or concerns about your placement with your Fieldwork instructor or with Elaine Simon.