RICHARDS: How much was your internship really worth?

Amy Richards

Upon returning to school last spring, the pressure to apply for a summer internship had already set in. Summer 2009 would be my final chance to prove that I was capable of entering the workforce after graduation. Consequently, I spent the summer internship-less, visiting friends who were busy putting in long hours as interns.

As audience to a number of criticisms about the intern way-of-life, I reconsidered the value of internships for undergraduate students and why everyone was investing so much time, energy and money into eight weeks of experience…   

The internship process is competitive, requiring applications, letters, networking and interviews. If a student is selected for the desired position, it may mean moving to a new city, finding a place to live and covering all expenses out of pocket. 

This summer, Lisa Cullington, a senior history major, spent nearly $20 a day on public transportation, commuting an hour and a half round-trip to New York City. The demand for internship experience by employers is so high, in fact, that students can now pay special career groups to guarantee them a position, housing and even a meal plan in a new city to ensure a “resume booster.” There has been a rise in the number of unpaid internships, yet no shortage of students jumping at the opportunity to fill the benefit-less spots.       

This spring, I investigated 10 positions with NGOs, journals and papers in New York. All positions were unpaid and required at least 40 hour work weeks, which would make it nearly impossible to commute into the city and work a paid job on the side.

Two summers ago, I participated in an unpaid internship with the state government, but was able to also work as a waitress.  However, there are a scarcity of part-time internships for students who cannot afford not to earn an income this past summer. 

In May, senior English major Melissa Nally moved to Cape Cod to work for the magazine Cape Cod Life without pay. Nally confirmed that the demand for internship experience allows employers to take advantage of free student labor, while employers offer a letter of recommendation in return for students’ efforts, only if they earned it, of course. The burgeoning population of unpaid interns suggests that these organizations are displacing paid employees who the organizations can no longer afford to pay, with interns.      

Are internships so essential to the career path that students should be forced to cover all of these costs, even if their internship is unpaid? 

The College of Arts & Sciences Internship Office web site proposes that they are, indeed, necessary.  The office’s tagline reads “INTERNSHIPS … don’t leave Villanova without one!” as if a student can stop by the school store later today and pick one up.  Unfortunately, Villanova declares, “Students should realize that most … internships are unpaid.” 

Thank you, website suggestions. Now that I realize this, I can start on my applications and hope to dig only further into debt by 2010. Meanwhile, more and more Villanova degrees demand that students have internship experience to graduate. In addition to not earning an income, students can expect to pay $600 to receive academic credit for the internship.      

Despite the value of an internship, the institution of career development has failed to provide equality of opportunity to students who cannot internships. Does the workforce provide any more accessible alternatives for students to gain workplace experience? 

No, at least not in any systematic way.  Along with the wealth of connections that students of higher socioeconomic standing tend to have with firms and employers, they have the means to participate in internships, perhaps every summer throughout college. 

The internship process serves those with money to spare. Those who cannot participate grow accustomed to hours of low-wage, part-time work.

Until career development officers and employers fashion a more just opportunity for workplace experience, the internship will continue to be most highly regarded on job applications …

It seems then, that this year’s juniors have no choice but to start their applications and ready their checkbooks, for next year’s internship competition has already commenced!   


Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and Global Interdisciplinary Studies major from Kings Park, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected].