Dailey: Financial obstacles shouldn’t hinder internship opportunity

John Dailey discusses dealing with barriers while deciding which internships to take advantage of.

John Dailey

For college students, stress in managing an internship along with other responsibilities is obvious and inherent, but for some students the challenge begins before they even apply.

Temple has a history of being a haven for commuter students on a budget. Numerous students rise each day and make the trek to school. And, despite yearly increases, Temple’s tuition is a bargain relative to other universities in the area, which attracts budget-minded students. It’s no great stretch to say that a good portion of Temple students are fiscally conscious and/or live in their parents’ home, striving to maintain a balance between college life and the demands imposed by their family.

Temple has a hardworking community, but often, barriers to professional growth are present from both financial– and family-based pressures.

To nab those sweet high-paying internships — if applicable to your major — you generally need a higher GPA. However, a stellar GPA can be difficult to maintain when you have to work 20-plus hours a week to pay rent, stave off the debt monster or are simply required to work by your family’s culture. If this is the case, your GPA may slip to a number that begins to weigh down your self-confidence, along with your shot at aforementioned sweet positions.

If you are barely able to keep up with your coursework and current job, how are you supposed to devote time to an internship search or, quite possibly, accept an additional non-paying position?

Looking to the future that was once bright and full of opportunity, you see a darkening horizon and feel trapped in this cycle, at the mercy of forces beyond your control.

I can relate to this because I’m the oldest sibling in my family and the first to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Having been employed in some capacity since I was 15, I felt that I had to work as a matter of pride and family pressures. It wasn’t really financial. I lived in my parents’ home and I just knew that if I didn’t work, then there would be trouble in my house — to say the least.

I held a position as a dietary aide — also known as a glorified and underpaid waiter — at a nursing home working back-to-back 10-hour weekend shifts and two weekdays.

I thought about the microeconomic device called the production possibility frontier. It proves graphically that a firm, or individual, is best off focusing on producing the most valuable good and will sacrifice potential productivity if other goods are produced.

Essentially, it’s why it makes sense for Tiger Woods to never mow his own lawn, but rather to practice golf.

I figured that I was wasting my time making $7.50 an hour, while I could have been focusing on my professional development.

Soon after, I landed my first internship at Back on My Feet, a nonprofit founded in Philly with a running-based, homeless-combating model. Initially, my parents balked at the idea of a position with no pay, but it was a better situation than no job at all.

Now, I am in the process of looking for a job and feel confident as a result of my internship experience.

My personal example isn’t the most extreme, but all too often I see friends and classmates shying away from doing internships or co-ops because they believe that they can’t do it or are afraid to put their foot down in defense of their future success.

Tuanh Nguyen, a senior international business major, said she had to contend with her family’s culture and the need to pay her rent when seeking to obtain her first internship.

“Growing up, we were just expected to do things, like we never got an allowance or anything,” Nguyen said. “I have always been working and paying my bills since I’d gotten out of high school.”

Paying for school and rent while at Temple has been a source of pride for Nguyen.

“In terms of finances, I’ve paid for everything by myself,” she said.

Confessing that she did not understand the concept of internships at first, she soon decided that she needed to do an internship herself.

“When I had just left high school, my career plans were to just do well grade-wise and then get a job and that’s it,” Nguyen said. “But after being in this culture, having my professors push internships and seeing how much experience my friends were getting, I realized that it was a part of getting a good job.”

However, at this point Nguyen was already working three days during the week at a daycare and at a nail salon on the weekends, along with taking six courses.

She decided that her professional development was more important and, after assessing her finances, decided to leave one of her jobs.

“I spoke to my manager about my future, telling her that I needed to do an internship and couldn’t work there anymore,” Nguyen said. “I’ve found that bosses in general understand when it comes to school, because the next day my boss recommended me to her friend.”

Nguyen wound up leaving her job at the daycare to be a sales support and legal assistant to her old manager’s entrepreneurial friend.

“Not only did I learn about the business aspect, but I was exposed to all these little facets of doing things,” Nguyen said. “I really feel that I am much more marketable as an employee now.”

Nguyen suggests that students that have to work to support themselves make every effort to gain professional experience.

“I have so many friends who lack experience and are taking jobs that they are overqualified for,” Nguyen said. “You just need to clear your schedule and make it work.”

John A. Dailey can be reached at john.dailey@temple.edu.

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