Are internships really that great? It depends #500daysofwriting

For decades the conventional wisdom for students in college has been in addition to your coursework it is a really good idea to get an internship. Internships provide eager students with a window into the working world, provide valuable skills and work experience, and help the student network their way into a career. Of course these opportunities come with a price. Internships are, by their very nature, designed to be a bit of a boot camp for the interns. Students toil away at sometimes menial tasks with the hope to be included in major projects or given tasks which allow them to showcase their talent. And of course the experience can vary widely from deeply involved and rewarding to the stereotype of the intern getting coffee and the dry cleaning.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) estimate in 2018 over 1.5 million college students had an internship of some sort. This number does not count service-learning and co-op experiences which can also be just as plentiful. While the value of an internship is generally accepted in 2016 NACE completed a study on internships and found that not all internships give potential employees the best path to career success. As a matter of fact there is lots of evidence to support that taking an unpaid internship is not better than not having an internship at all.

About half of the aforementioned 1.5 million internships were unpaid. Which is progress. For years almost all internships were unpaid. This can really hurt students who cannot afford to work without financial backing including low income students, students with families, and students who live in cities where the cost of living is high. This lack of pay can result in students taking out high loan amounts and going into other debt if they do not have savings or support like that from family.

Here is why taking an unpaid internship might not be the best idea. First the unpaid internship rarely led to a job offer. The 2016 survey found only 17% of unpaid interns were offered jobs before leaving the internships. Compare that to 36% of paid interns. Right out of the gate paid interns are twice as likely to leave, job in hand. Sure, this does not mean some of those unpaid interns were not hired at a later date but it does show how much harder that road appears to be.

But what about the job search in general? Well the data ain’t much better. At graduation, students who had an unpaid internship had a job 36% of the time, but those students with a paid internship were likely to have had a job in hand 63% of the time. How about those students who did not complete an internship? For them 35% of the time they had a job offer. So, basically the same percentage as unpaid interns. And the news gets even worse when it comes to pay. Students who had a paid internship had offers of $51,930 on average whereas having no internship had offers of $37,087 and unpaid interns, $35,721. That’s right! Unpaid interns were even paid less than those with no internship at all. And there is lots of data that students who settle for lower salaries at the beginning of their careers struggle to make up the gap later in their careers.

So does that mean students should not take an internship if its unpaid? Not necessarily. Internships are individual experiences and each student has to decide if the loss of financial incentive is worth the experience. So it’s important to work with students and evaluate what the work will be for the student. Is it valuable for them and their career? Are there any other perks like professional travel and networking opportunities? And finally, can the student afford to take the internship? Taking out large sums of student loans may amplify the negative impact of the internship.

This one page article is the first in what I hope will be a 500 post series of one page ideas, observations, conversation starters, and topics. I will cross a number of topics from my love for Gen X culture, music, and influences to more professional minded posts on higher education, what I am reading right now, and even some personal updates. I am doing this to try to increase my writing and thinking skill and to create a catalog of thoughts. So who know if I will get this done but I am willing to give it a shot. I am going to try to post once a day so it will be a challenge. If all goes well I will wrap this up sometime at the end of 2020. I am assuming I will not post everyday so I am giving myself three months of cushion. Thanks in advance for indulging this project. Any feedback will be great!

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