Semester in DC Student FAQ
Q: Who is Eligible?
All second-year and third-year law students are eligible for the Semester in D.C. Program. Second-year students may participate in the spring semester only; third-year students may participate in either semester.
Q: What kinds of externships qualify for the Semester in D.C. Program?
Externships must meet the following requirements:
- Your employer must be either a non-profit organization or a government office;
- Your employer will enable you to work a minimum of 520 hours during the semester (roughly 35-40 hours a week for 13-15 weeks);
- Your employer will give you primarily law-related work;
- You will be supervised by an attorney;
- Your externship will be unpaid (except for reimbursement of expenses or a stipend of up to $ 3,375); and
- You will be working in the office (no telecommuting).
Q: How do students find an externship?
Students interested in doing an externship should first think about their goals. They should ask themselves: What kind of experience do I want to obtain? What areas of law or practice settings would I like to explore? What lawyering skills would I like to develop? Am I looking to build on experiences that I already have, or try something completely different? How closely do I want my externship experience to mirror the kind of career I hope to have? Students should then look for experiences that will fulfill their goals.
- Start by using the Semester in D.C. Program Externship Resources document. This download provides information about the resources the Semester in D.C. Program offers to help with your search for an externship placement, including how to access our permanent externship employer lists and new externship announcements. It also has links to external information that might be useful to you, including listservs and websites that have listings for both externships and jobs.
- After you have reviewed the Externship Resources information, e-mail Professor Baylis to let her know of your interest in the program and discuss externship employer possibilities. Professor Baylis can provide you with more information about past Semester in D.C. Program employers, as well as connecting you to Semester in D.C. Program alumni and other Washington-area alumni and practitioners.
- Meet with professors who teach in your areas of interest. They may be able to help you think about your goals and interests and identify potential employers, and knowledgeable alumni.
- Meet with the Office of Professional and Career Development and use their resources. OPCD has an Associate Director for DC Area Outreach, Briana Green, who is based in Washington and can provide you with information, connections and advice. Many employers who advertise for permanent or summer internship positions would also be interested in hiring interns during the semester if contacted. OPCD also maintains an Alumni Network Directory on the Extranet that can enable you to contact Washington alumni who work in your area. You can also look for potential employers on Symplicity; we post new externship announcements there, and employers post announcements there directly as well.
Q: How do I apply for an externship?
Students should apply directly to employers for externship positions. Most employers will indicate what application materials they want to receive in their externship announcement. If not, or if you are applying to an organization that has not advertised a position, send a cover letter and resume.
Q: When should I begin applying for externships?
The semester before you want to participate. Some employers have formal hiring processes with very early deadlines, as early as September for the spring semester and February for the fall semester. This is especially true of government agencies that require security clearances. However, many other employers do not have formal hiring processes and will hire interns on a rolling basis. Some employers will not get around to hiring their externs until the last month before the new semester begins. The best advice we can offer is to apply early, but be patient and flexible about the timing. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from an employer right away – they may just not be ready to think about hiring externs yet.
Q: How do I enroll in the Semester in D.C. Program?
Once you have been offered an externship, you should immediately notify Prof. Baylis to complete the necessary paperwork. All new externship placements must be approved in advance by Prof. Baylis. After your externship has been approved, you can contact the registrar to request the permission numbers to enroll in the D.C. Seminar and D.C. Externship. Most students will still be in the process of applying for externships when it is time to register for the next semester’s classes. That's fine. Just register for a regular courseload at the law school. Then, when you secure your externship, you can drop those classes and add the D.C. courses.
Q: How many credits can be earned for the Semester in D.C. program?
In one semester, you earn 13 credits: 10 ungraded credits for the D.C. Externship and 3 graded credits for the D.C. Seminar. If you wish, you can also earn 1-2 additional credits by writing an independent study paper related to your externship under the supervision of a professor. In Spring 2013, you can also take an additional three-credit class, "Law-Making Seminar," which will be taught in Washington and available to students in both Washington and Pittsburgh.
Q: What graduation requirements does the Semester in D.C. Program fulfill?
The D.C. Externship fulfills the Professional Skills requirement, and the D.C. Seminar fulfills the Upper Level Writing Requirement.
Q: What planning do I need to do to participate in the Semester in D.C. Program?
You should think about how a semester in Washington fits into your plans for your law school education, career exploration and job search, in particular:
- What courses do you need to take right away in order to fulfill your graduation requirements and have a semester free for this program?
- Which semester would you like to spend in Washington? Students are encouraged to participate in their third year, unless there is some particular reason to participate as a second-year student, such as anticipated journal or clinic responsibilities in your third year.
- Are you participating in a certificate program, clinic, joint degree program, or law journal? If yes, talk to the director or faculty advisor. You can use the Semester in D.C. to fulfill some certificate program requirements. All our program directors support participating in the Semester in D.C. program and encourage students to use it to gain hands-on experience in their specialty area, but you do need to plan your courses carefully to make sure that you schedule required classes and fulfill other obligations in other semesters.
Q: What is the D.C. Seminar?
This course meets weekly at Pitt’s Washington Center in downtown D.C. and provides intensive supervision and support for the externship experience. Part of each session is devoted to a “roundtable” discussion to facilitate peer-to-peer learning about lawyering at the broad range of externship sites. Class sessions feature frequent guest speakers including students' alumni mentors, past Semester in D.C. Program participants now working in Washington, and other Washington-area alumni and practitioners. Students write weekly reflection papers and final papers on legal topics relevant to their externships. A sample syllabus with information on class topics, course requirements, and grading, can be found here.
Q: How do students get credit for externships?
The 10 externship credits are ungraded and you will receive credit on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis. In order to receive a “satisfactory” designation, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- By the beginning of the semester, your externship employer must send Prof. Baylis an email confirming that your externship meets the program requirements (listed above).
- Site Visit. During the semester, Prof. Baylis will schedule a visit to your externship site. Visits usually last 30 to 60 minutes and consist of a meeting with your supervisor and a tour of the office, including your workspace.
- Minimum 520 Hours Work. You must work a minimum of 520 hours during the semester, between the first day of classes and the last day of exams. You will submit a record of your hours worked with your weekly journal for the D.C. Seminar. Prof. Baylis will also ask your supervisor to certify the total hours you have worked at the end of the semester, so you will need to keep a record of your hours for your supervisor on an ongoing basis, if your employer does not already require you to do so.
- End of the Semester Evaluation. At the end of the semester, Prof. Baylis will ask your supervisor to submit a brief evaluation of your work and your externship experience, including the confirmation of the hours you have worked. Your employer must certify that you have done a satisfactory job in carrying out your work.
Q: What reporting requirements are there during the externship?
You will submit a weekly journal for the D.C. Seminar, including a record of your hours worked each week.
Q: What about housing and financial aid?
The Semester in D.C. program has put together a list of intern housing options in the D.C. area available here. To mitigate the higher cost of living in Washington, Semester in D.C. Program students are eligible to apply for up to $3,375 in additional financial aid through the Financial Aid Office. SDC Program students may also apply for fellowships to help defray their expenses, including the Samuelson-Glushko Fellowship for intellectual property and technology law fellowships and other, external fellowship opportunities for public interest fellowships. For more information about the Samuelson-Glushko Fellowship, see here; for more information about external fellowships and financial aid, see the Fellowship section of this page below.
Q: How can I learn more about the Semester in D.C. Program?
There are many ways to learn more about the Semester in D.C. Program:
- Students interested in this program are urged to attend a Semester in D.C. student information panel (typically held early in the spring semester).
- Professor Baylis is in Washington full-time running the Semester in D.C. Program, but she is available to e-mail or talk with you by phone to answer any questions, and she will also meet with students in person when she is at the Law School.
- Associate Dean Kevin Deasy is also very familiar with the Semester in D.C. Program. He is on-campus full-time and is also available to talk with students.
- Join our LinkedIn and Facebook pages for regularly updated information about Program events in D.C. and D.C. internship and job opportunities.
- Ask Professor Baylis to add you to our e-mail list to receive new internship announcements as well as notification of Semester in D.C. Program events in Pittsburgh.
- Our Semester in D.C. Program alumni are our greatest resource. You can read their stories on our Alumni Spotlight page. Professor Baylis will also be glad to put you in touch with Program alumni to talk about their experiences in the Program and to offer advice on your own Semester in D.C.