The great internship debate

Paula Ward
Guest Contributor

College students are often told that internships are the best way to gain first-hand experience to prepare them for the workforce. But what do you do when that internship means sacrificing time and money you otherwise need to survive?

Many students work to support themselves. Whether they’re paying bills for an entire house, practicing basic financial independence or simply want some extra spending money, the desire to have a job is one that students often give in to.

It’s important to note, however, that not all jobs that are hiring necessarily pertain to a student’s major or desired field. Resume experts often warn individuals not to put job experiences in restaurant or retail fields on a resume unless they directly relate to the job being applied for. This means that students must attend classes, work and take on an internship just to compete for a single position.

One solution to this problem would be a paid internship. Despite popular belief, they do exist. More often than not, internships provide course credit, meaning that in exchange for the work being performed, students will able to receive credit towards their degree.

Unfortunately, this exchange does not negate having to pay tuition to their schools for the credit hours. In effect, students are indirectly paying for their internships, even if they are paid internships.

Most programs at VCU either require students to undertake an internship in order to graduate or require the student to be registered for the internship under a particular course number for academic credit. A student-teaching internship fee for the School of Education is $150 per course. Majors in certain departments, like political science, business and mass communications require students to have an internship in order to graduate.

With a cost of $327.50 per credit hour at VCU, the typical three-hour course would run just under $1,000.

It is legal for companies to accept interns if they are receiving college credit. This allows a company to hire an intern without really having to do much in terms of benefits and/or pay. For competitive industries, this is also a way to weed out candidates. In the current economic state of the country, it’s no wonder companies are trying to cut costs wherever possible.

Some people believe that the desire for extra spending money does not outweigh the need to pay bills, so interns do not take priority when it comes to their annual budget. From a student perspective however, the lack of paid internships may be adding to an already heavy load. That’s without considering part-time jobs students already have in order to pay for basic necessities.

Where is the compromise in this situation? Surely companies can sacrifice at least minimum wage to the students they feel qualify for the position in question, right?

The best encouragement for students dealing with a shortage of paid internships is that the experience may actually strengthen their ability to get a job in the future. That experience may literally pay off one day.

Full-time positions often have a specific list of minimum requirements. Entry-level positions, on average, require less than two years of experience. Internships can give a student that extra experience they may need to qualify. Interns may even be hired to be full time employees if they impress their internship coordinators. Hiring companies look for internship experience in order to get a better understanding of whether or not a candidate is capable of performing the necessary duties.

Although it may be a struggle to find an internship that meets your educational and financial requirements, it may also be worth it in the long run to take an unpaid internship. That experience can set you apart from the competition and even help you get that next paid position.

Likewise, universities need to consider how costly, in terms of finance and energy, that internships weigh upon students and re-evaluate expectations for students. Most companies won’t be likely to extend a similar kindness, but those that do gain the loyalty of student employees.

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