It’s fall. What does that mean for most people? Well, for many it’s baseball playoffs, school, fall weather and a break for the heat of summer, FOOTBALL, football (soccer), and many more things. What it also means is the long painful hunt for internships or jobs for the next summer by college students and high school upperclassmen. What used to be a unique piece of an application, internships are increasingly becoming a necessary component of any student’s application to graduate school and even undergraduate schools in some cases. The problem is that employers are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that hundreds (if not thousands) of students will be knocking on their doors looking for an internship to pad their resume. This has led to a sort of unpaid labor system that teaches the student nothing and produces a company, in essence, free labor.
This quote from an article written last February by an undergraduate student at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA gives good insight into a dilemma that is becoming more and more apparent among undergraduate college students,
“I’ve only applied for about fourteen, which, when compared to many of my peers, isn’t nearly enough. My struggle to find motivation to write cover letter after cover letter probably stems from the fact that most of the internships are unpaid, so once I factor in my living expenses, I’ll actually be losing money.”
The situation in many instances goes like this; a student applies for an unpaid internship at an unnamed company, he/she is granted an interview and is eventually accepted to the position. The student is excited because they think they will be gaining valuable experience that will not only help them on a resume but also give them knowledge in a field they might want to pursue. They arrive on the first day at work excited and prepared. Whoever is in charge of them at the company seems nice and introduces them to everyone on the floor. They start with some easy stuff and the student is having fun. This goes on for a week or so and both the student, and the company employee, seems to be invested in the internship experience. But then something happens, the employee begins to lose interest in the student and focuses on his/her job. The student is relegated to monotonous busy work for hours a day.
This sort of behavior has become rampant among companies all over the United States. An article from the New York Times Opinion section cites “politics, media and entertainment, to name a few,” as the key industries exhibiting this behavior. My question from the title still stands, what exactly is the value of a college internship? Sure, they help you get a job or get into grad school, but what exactly is the student learning? The current system not only hurts the student interns, but the millions of jobless people all over the United States. The unemployment rate for youth (those aged 16-24 and are working or looking for work) hovers around 17%, thousands of jobs are being occupied by unpaid interns instead of others who may not be able to financially afford an unpaid internship and are in desperate need for work.
This is a broken system in which companies are acting unchecked as they trade hours of unpaid labor for a simple line on a students resume. Something needs to be changed.