Bringing opportunity back to internships

For college students today, finding a career after graduating is not always easy. The modern American economy no longer possesses the same avenues of opportunity and access that it once had. As a result, students, recent graduates, and even seasoned professionals have turned toward internships as a means of gaining experience, making connections, and boosting their resumes. These workers are looking for the real-world experience that an actual job would provide, but, forfeiting what is so integral to those occupations: a salary.

While they can be important for students to ascertain their careers, internships are often only available to the privileged and wealthy. If students need to pay for their tuition, books, or just need some pocket money during the school year, they will be drawn more toward a typical summer job rather than some glitzy internship. On the other hand, those who don’t need to stress about how they are going to pay for their degree are free to choose any avenue they’d like, for their decision to work does not carry the same consequences as their less well-off peers.  

This privilege also makes it easier for students to actually get an internship. Students with parents who have better, more advantageous jobs, who know a guy” at a certain company, or who have a plethora of connections are more likely to get an internship at a well-known company or organization. This access leads into a vicious cycle of privilege. A cycle wherein some succeed solely due to the fact that they had the opportunity to do so from the beginning, while others lag behind because those avenues were shut off to them, just as their parents likely weren’t able to experience those opportunities.

This is not to say that all internships are worthless or frivolous wastes of times; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Internships, and work experiences, lead to higher graduation rates and, more importantly, higher chances of getting a job after college. As a result of an increasingly competitive job market, students seem to be trending toward any opportunity that falls their way, but there is a strong case to be made that not all internships are treated equally. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the hiring rate for students with a history of a paid internship is 63 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who complete an unpaid internship  is significantly lower—37 percent—practically the same as for those who do not complete an internship at all.

The reason that those with paid internships are hired at such favorable rates is that they come out of college with a breadth of real world experience, as compared to unpaid internships that are usually of a lower quality. But there are many ways for this experience to be gained more equally by all. First, companies, organizations, and all types of employers could learn the value of a diverse workforce. Second, paying interns would give employers the ability to attract every kind of student, no matter their background.

For too long the American economy has barred those on its bottom rungs from ever believing they could ascend. Whether it be “No Irish Need Apply” signs or the culture of a society built around the motto of  “Whites Only,” the avenues to success have rarely ever been doled out equitably. With the value of a college degree increasing in cost but decreasing in value, internships are the modern path for millions of Americans to get a leg up in the competition. It is simply not fair for this practice to continue unreformed. Every student deserves equal opportunity and access to all of the avenues to success, including internships.

graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Zoe/" title="View all of this person's work">"Zoe</a></span>

graphic by Zoe Kim

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