SWARTZ: The agony of internships

Matilda Swartz


Feb. 15, March 1, no cover letter necessary, graduation date must be December 2010 or May 2011. The preceding dates and phrases have been orbiting around my brain more than theories of mass communication or themes in post-1960 American drama for the past couple of weeks.

With the beginning of the spring semester comes the Jiminy Cricket of internships, tapping his foot and nudging his walking stick so that every free moment spent online is immediately diverted to GoNOVA or one of the various other databases for potential summer placement. 

Internship searches have become as ubiquitous to college life as the all-nighter or the red Solo cup. 

They have evolved from their past status as informal ways of trying out a possible future lifestyle to a mandatory requirement for post graduate success. 

The Web site for the Internship Office within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences says: “In today’s fast-paced environment, academic preparation needs to be accompanied by experience.” 

“In today’s fast-paced environment…” so much hinges on these five words. In today’s environment, the internship application process has become as grueling and competitive (if not more so) as completing the college application. Students spend hours revising their résumés (which, granted, are useful to have, regardless), crafting cover letters and compiling writing samples. 

The application requirements are guaranteed to vary by company or field, so there may or may not be a need to hunt down a past ACS professor for a letter of recommendation. 

In an effort to make the process even more akin to the hours we spent during our senior years of high school, some potential employers or placers (i.e., The Washington Center) require a fee of up to $60, just for the privilege of electronically submitting the fruits of your labor. 

Despite my griping, I do not blame internships themselves for the stress buildup in the brains of collegiate hopefuls everywhere. It is only logical to “test-drive” career X or Y before committing to a course of study or the dreaded employment scavenger hunt. 

The bureaucracy around internships is the recipient of my pointed finger. Even upon procurement of an internship, the red tape is endless.

Some companies demand that a student complete his or her program for academic credit. This would be an ultimate plus if the credit received counted toward the student’s major (whereas at Villanova, many internship credits only fulfill a fine arts requirement). 

Even if you can settle with a fine arts exchange, there are instances (for example, during the summer) where the matriculated student has to pay several hundreds of dollars per credit as if they were registered for a normal class. 

In this “fast-paced environment” that we inhabit, though, money is spent even faster. Undergraduates spend the majority of their summers as seasonal employees scrounging up dough that, more often than not, goes toward the possibility of paying off student loans, buying textbooks or having ample spending funds for Main Line prices. 

Having to pay my academic institution for the opportunity to work three or more precious days somewhere else strikes this columnist as somewhat backward. 

As I whine about the inanity of this process, there are millions of college students biting the bitter bullet and jumping through each of the aforementioned hoops. 

Even I can recognize the reality: the completion of an internship gives you an edge. Life from the Common Application onward is competitive, but the contests we enter are often bound by rulebooks. 

In order to beat the system, we must dig for loopholes. There are known cases of students accepting internships without credit in return, wanting to leave only with unadulterated experience. 

This is an alternative I could digest, although I can think of a handful of other summer ventures all idealistic and impractical, but much more worth my while. 

For example, this summer I will probably not wind up in France, skipping around the Avenue Montaigne, waitressing in a crêperie in a country whose language I don’t speak. 

More likely I may end up interning somewhere in these United States, doing coffee runs and befriending the copy machine.

In that event, my only expectation is the hope of leaving with a few good stories to tell and no sign of a deduction in my bank account.