Opinion | Internships are not the gold standard

Competition for internships favors wealthier students. Employers need to look beyond internship experience.


Sophia Meador, Opinions Editor

As children and adults leave the classroom or workplace and head outdoors for the summer, many college students are headed back inside the office for summer internships.

While internships offer valuable work experience for students, the competition for internships often favors wealthier students. Unpaid internships make it difficult for students who struggle to afford the high cost of living and education to make ends meet.

Although internships are considered the gold standard on applications, valuable work experience can be gained elsewhere. Employers must consider alternative forms of experience when hiring.

The pressure to find internships weighs hard on many students. Competition to land impressive internships is fiercely fought among students. Myself, like many others, are all too familiar with the phone call or email informing us we did not make it through the large pool of applicants.

While landing internship opportunities is difficult, what is more challenging is finding paid internships. Although internships are beneficial to companies, more than 40 percent of internships are unpaid. Even if an internship is paid, students must also consider the cost of living if the opportunity is not local.

As a result, the expectation for internships has created an inequitable, classist system. Students who are well off have more opportunities to chase unpaid internships, or more flexibility pursuing internships that are not local.

This system of disportionality hurts students of color. A rising number of college students from low-income backgrounds are entering college across all institutions. This has increased alongside the percentage of non-white college students.

Research found 47 percent of college students come from low-income families, and 31 percent of students are non-white.

Low-income and non-white students have more barriers in landing internships. As many internships lead directly to jobs upon graduation, marginalized students who can not afford to work as an intern have fewer resources to help them in their career field after graduation.

While there is more to be said regarding the unethical practice of unpaid internships, we need to reconsider the reality of internships as it stands now. Many college students cannot afford the opportunities of other college students. But one can gain valuable work experiences outside of internships, and employers must recognize that.

An estimated 43 percent of college students have part-time jobs. While part-time jobs in sectors like the service industry may seem unapplicable to full-time jobs, the skills practiced and gained are no less important than those made in the office.

Service workers and people in similar industries must regularly practice communication, patience, flexibility, and time-management. Although it may be a different setting, part-time jobs can acquire just as much work as full-time jobs.

Students can also gain valuable experience by participating in school organizations or volunteer programs. Compared to internships, organizations and programs can offer more opportunities for students to take on leadership roles and responsibilities. Students can have more influence running programs than working in offices.

This is not to say internships are not great experiences. If you are a student with the means to take on an internship, that’s an amazing opportunity. But internships should not be considered the only route to finding a job after college.

Businesses and companies also need to look beyond just internships when hiring. Although applicants with internships on their resume may have more experiences in a given field, their experience is no less valuable than someone who has worked a part-time job, led a student organization or volunteered for their community.

Internships are great, but they should not be the only route to finding a job after college. Work experience on all levels has merit, and students of all backgrounds have value.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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