General Questions

Q: Why should I participate in the Semester in D.C. Program?

Semester in D.C. Program alumni regularly say it was the best thing they did in law school. Why? Here are some of the reasons our alumni have offered:

  • Working full-time while also meeting regularly to talk about their experiences helped them figure out what kinds of work they like and don’t like, what their strengths are, and what they ultimately want to do with their careers.
  • The experience, credentials and contacts enabled some of them to find jobs.
  • They learned skills in practice that they couldn’t have learned just by studying.
  • It was satisfying to have the chance to exercise the knowledge they’d learned in their classes.
  • Actually doing the work of a lawyer gave them confidence in their abilities. 

If you’re wondering whether you should do the Semester in D.C. Program, one of the best ways to figure it out is to talk to our alumni. They’ve been in your position, so they understand where you’re coming from and can give you a realistic perspective. Professor Drew Roberts will be glad to put you in touch with Semester in D.C. Program alumni. You should also talk to Professor Roberts, who can talk you through the pros and cons.

Q: Who is eligible to participate?

All second-year and third-year law students are eligible for the Semester in D.C. Program.

Q: What are the Flexible Track and the Policy Track?

This chart provides an overview. There are more details under the "Options, Credits and Classes" tab.

  Flexible Track Policy Track
When? Spring of your 2L or 3L year Spring of your 2L or 3L year
Classes DC Seminar (3 credits)
DC Externship (8-10 credits)
Public Policy Seminar (3 credits)
Lobbying & Advocacy (3 credits)
Policy Colloquium (1 credit)
Policy Externship (4-8 credits)
Class Alternatives Flexible Track students are permitted to enroll in a Policy Track class if available. Policy Track students can substitute the D.C. Externship and D.C. Seminar for the Policy Externship and Policy Colloquium if they wish to earn additional credits.
Credential None Public Policy Concentration
Focus Learn from your externship experience Intensive training in policy skills through classes and your externship
Students Law students only Law and GSPIA students

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:

  • Should you participate during your 2L or your 3L year? If you want to work for the federal government after graduation, it can be helpful to participate in your second year if possible. Such internship experience can be advantageous in your applications for entry level federal attorney positions, which take place early in your third year through the Honors Program and the Presidential Management Fellowship Program. Anticipated journal, clinic, or job responsibilities in your third year are also a reason to participate in your second year. Third-year participation gives you the opportunity to explore your established area of interest and to make contact with corporate, non-profit, Congressional, or small/medium/boutique law firm employers closer to the time they will be looking to hire. 
  • What courses do you need to take during other semesters in order to fulfill your graduation requirements and have a semester free for this program?
  • Are you participating in a certificate program, clinic, joint degree program, or law journal? If so, talk to the director or faculty advisor in advance. 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. You just need to plan your courses carefully to make sure that you schedule required classes and fulfill other obligations in other semesters.

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 $4,500 in additional financial aid through the Financial Aid Office. Semester in D.C. Program students may also apply for fellowships to help defray their expenses; for more information, see the Fellowship page.

Q: After I’ve finished looking at the information available here, 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.
  • Professor Roberts is in Washington full-time running the Semester in D.C. Program, but he is available to e-mail or talk with you by phone to answer any questions. He will also meet with students in person when he is at the Law School.
  • Join our LinkedIn page for regularly updated information about Program events in D.C. and about internship and job opportunities.  
  • Ask Professor Roberts to add you to our e-mail list to receive new semester and summer internship and entry-level job 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 Roberts will 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.

Externship Questions

Q: What kinds of externships qualify for the Semester in D.C. Program?

In order to qualify for the program, externships must meet the following requirements:

  • Externships with non-profit organizations or governmental entities are eligible for the program. Under limited circumstances outlined below,* the Externship and Semester in DC Directors may approve externships with for-profit entities.
  • Student externs must do primarily law- or policy-related work.
  • If the externship is law-related, an attorney must supervise the student extern.  If the externship is policy-focused, an equivalent policy professional may supervise the student extern.
  • Student externs must work a minimum of 42 hours per externship credit during the program dates.
  • Students must work at their externship sites. Telecommuting is not permitted as part of the externship program (except on an occasional basis due to unusual circumstances, e.g., if the office closes temporarily due to weather or a government shutdown).


*For-profit externships:

Whenever possible, for-profit employers should pay law student interns a sufficient salary to enable students to engage in such internships. However, under limited circumstances, the Externship and Semester in DC Directors will approve externship credit for work with for-profit employers. This policy is primarily meant to enable a student to earn credit for an externship that is educationally valuable to the student, but is with a for-profit organization that does not offer paid student internships. These organizations may include small companies, social enterprises, and law firms. In order to qualify for externship credit, a student’s work with a for-profit entity must meet all of the following criteria:

  • The student would not be able to pursue the internship without receiving academic credit. (Examples include: opportunities through the Semester in DC Program; the student needs to earn academic credit for any work due to an employer or visa requirement; or the employer does not offer any paid internships.)
  • Engaging in this internship presents a particularly valuable learning opportunity for the student or fulfills a mandatory external requirement. (Examples include: A fellowship or other external program requires the student to work in an internship; the work closely matches the student’s career goals; or this is an unusual opportunity to gain skills, knowledge, or career connections not available elsewhere.)
  • Process requirements: The student must submit additional for-profit externship information on PittLawWorks to have the externship preapproved. The employer must also complete an additional for-profit externship form in advance confirming that it meets the Pitt Law program requirements and the Department of Labor guidance concerning unpaid internships.

Q:  How do I apply for an externship?

Students apply directly to employers for externship positions. If we have an existing relationship with an employer, we will also be glad to forward your application materials to the employer, in addition to your direct application. 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: How do I find an externship?

We offer you a lot of assistance with finding an externship:

  • 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 externships, as well as summer internships and jobs. 
  • Search the two Pitt-password-protected Employer Lists for externships that might interest you. We have an SDC Employer List with websites, application information, and alumni contacts for externship employers with which we have connections and an SDC Unaffiliated Employer Information document with the names and websites of other potential externship sites.
  • E-mail Professor Roberts at pittindc@pitt.edu to let him know of your interest in the program, discuss externship employer possibilities, and begin receiving externship opportunity announcements through the Semester in D.C. Program email list. Professor Roberts 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 Professional Development Office and use their resources. We post externship announcements on PittLawWorks, and employers post announcements there directly as well. Many employers who post announcements for summer internships would also hire interns during the semester if asked, even if they don’t actively advertise semester positions.
  • To receive new D.C. externship announcements, ask Professor Roberts to add you to the Semester in D.C. Program e-mail list. Also, join the Semester in D.C. Program LinkedIn page, where we post externship announcements as well as information about D.C.-area events and Semester in D.C. Program news.

Q:  When should I begin applying for externships?

Typically, you should begin applying the semester before you want to participate. Some employers have formal hiring processes with very early deadlines, as early as August or September for the spring semester, and a handful of employers hire a full year in advance. Government agencies that require security clearances tend to hire early. However, many other employers do not have formal hiring processes and hire interns on a rolling basis. Some employers will not get around to hiring their externs until the last weeks 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 worry if you don’t hear from an employer right away – they may just not be ready to think about hiring externs yet.

Options, Credits, and Classes

Q: How do I enroll in the Semester in D.C. Program?

Once you have been offered an externship, you should immediately notify Professor Roberts so that your externship site can be approved. All externship placements must be approved in advance by Professor Roberts. After your externship site has been approved, Professor Roberts will ask the registrar to register you in your D.C. classes. Many 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. You can 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 do I know whether I should participate in the Flexible Track or the Policy Track of the Semester in D.C. Program?

The Flexible Track is aimed at students interested in any law-related area of work. Its focus is on learning from your externship experience. 

The Policy Track is intended for students who are interested in policy work and want intensive training in policy skills. It allows you to earn a credential for your Semester in D.C. Program experience: the Public Policy Concentration. The classes are designed to be practical in orientation, with a focus on hands-on activities and on learning from policy practitioners who serve as guest speakers and instructors. We created this program in consultation with alumni who work in policy jobs in D.C.; they advised us on what skills and knowledge would be most useful for law students interested in policy jobs.

Q:  What graduation requirements does the Semester in D.C. Program fulfill?

Flexible Track: The D.C. Externship fulfills the Experiential Learning requirement, and the D.C. Seminar fulfills the Upper Level Writing Requirement. 

Policy Track: The Policy Externship fulfills the Experiential Learning requirement, the Public Policy Seminar fulfills the Upper Level Writing requirement, and Lobbying & Advocacy can be used to fulfill either the Experiential Learning requirement or the Writing requirement. 

Q: How many credits can be earned for the Semester in D.C. program?

Flexible Track: 8-10 satisfactory/unsatisfactory credits for the D.C. Externship and 3 graded credits for the co-requisite D.C. Seminar. You may also add a policy class for additional credits, as discussed below.

Policy Track: 4-8 satisfactory/unsatisfactory credits for the Policy Externship, 1 satisfactory/unsatisfactory credit for the co-requisite Policy Colloquium, 3 graded credits for Lobbying & Advocacy, and 3 graded credits for the Public Policy Seminar. Additional classes may be offered in future years. If you want to earn additional credits, you may substitute the D.C. Externship and D.C. Seminar for the Policy Externship and Policy Colloquium.

You may also add an independent study for 1-2 credits to either track.

Q: What credentials can be earned through the Semester in D.C. Program?

Flexible Track: None

Policy Track: Public Policy Concentration

Q: Can I take a policy class if I am participating in the Flexible Track?

Yes, you can register for an individual course from the Policy Track if you wish. However, you cannot earn the Public Policy Concentration unless you complete the full Policy Track.

Q: What classes are required to participate?

If you take the D.C. Externship, you must also sign up for the D.C. Seminar. If you take the Policy Externship, you must also sign up for the Policy Colloquium. If you want to complete the Policy Track and earn the Public Policy Concentration, you must also take the Public Policy Seminar and the Lobbying & Advocacy course.

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 reflection journals and final research papers on topics relevant to their externships. A sample syllabus with information on class topics, course requirements, and grading, can be found here.

Q: What are the Policy Colloquium and the other Policy Track classes?

The policy colloquium is a series of periodic meetings with the other students in the Policy Track and with policy practitioners. As in the DC Seminar, you’ll write reflection journals, engage in round-table discussions with your peers, and meet with your alumni mentor. Unlike in the DC Seminar, you will not write a final research paper. At some meetings, GSPIA and Law alumni who work in policy-related jobs will visit to talk about their work and career paths and to offer advice on your interests.

The Public Policy Seminar teaches you about the real-world dynamics affecting law and policy development and implementation by focusing on case studies of current issues and bringing in law- and policy-makers who have worked on those issues to talk with the class. Past issues have included cybersecurity, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, international rule of law programs, epidemics, and climate change. You will write either an “issue brief” policy paper or an academic research paper.

Lobbying and Advocacy teaches you hands-on advocacy skills through a series of in-class and out-of-class assignments. You will also meet with Congressional staff, lobbyists, and other advocates and learn about their work. This class culminates in a presentation to a hypothetical client on a current policy issue.