Unpaid internships cater to upper class, exclude others

Those who cannot afford to work for free lose more than just an opportunity.

MichaelaWinbergBWMaintain a high GPA. Get experience in your field. Network, network, network.

Among these common pieces of advice for college students to land full-time jobs after graduation is the familiar: get an unpaid internship.

According to a study done by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012, employers consider internships and employment during school more important than any other academic or extracurricular factor, including GPA, college major or professional club participation.

In fact, 91 percent of employers expect students to have one or two internships before graduating, according to an article published by Fox Business.

Temple students face the same national pressure to land an internship before graduation.

“Internships are essential,” said Kelly Hart, the director of employment partnerships and career communications at Temple. “Students that have internships throughout their college career, their ability to be gainfully employed is much higher.”

She added the College of Engineering recently determined that 77 percent of students who were employed after graduation had internships during their college career.

Hart estimates about 35-40 percent of internships are unpaid.

Despite the advantage they provide in getting students full-time jobs after college, unpaid internships are problematic. When students accept unpaid internships, they trade the time that they could be using to earn money for time spent doing unpaid work. This means the students might have to take a second job to pay for expenses like rent and food, or be subsidized by their parents throughout their time as interns.

Though this may be doable for students coming from privilege, not everyone can afford to take a job without income for a summer or a semester. Unpaid internships reward the rich with work experience and deny the poor the same opportunity, thus widening the wage gap and contributing to economic inequality in the long run.

“Socioeconomic inequalities are exacerbated by unpaid internships since they either reduce or eliminate opportunities for minority applicants of disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds,” Dr. Nicolas Pologeorgis wrote in an article for Investopedia. “It seems that they tend to close off opportunities for minority applicants or people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

According to an article published by the Economic Policy Institute, the most prestigious internships are usually offered in cities like New York and Washington, D.C. The cost of living in Washington, D.C. for about 10 weeks, the typical length of a summer internship, averages at about $4,000 to $5,000, immediately excluding most poor or working-class students from an unpaid internship in that area.

Worse yet, unpaid internships ask students to work without pay during potentially one of the most expensive times in their lives: college.

In 2008, the cost of attending a four-year public university after financial aid was about 28 percent of median family income; attending a four-year private university cost 76 percent of median family income, according to an article published by Newsweek.

Furthermore, according to an article published by Market Watch, the average class of 2015 graduate left college with about $35,051 in student loan debt last year.

For families already struggling to put their children through college, an unpaid internship would be completely out of the question. Students should not be expected to work for free while they simultaneously rack up student loan debt.

Luckily, Hart said the Career Center at Temple holds their unpaid internships to a high standard. They only post jobs and internships on OwlConnect if they agree with the standards of the National Association of College Employers.

“There are unpaid internships for credit, and then there are just unpaid internships,” Hart said. “There are several schools within the university where you can get credit for your internship. Legally, for them to be unpaid is completely fine. … We really try to push for students to get academic credit.”

Ultimately, Hart said that some internships just don’t follow the Career Center’s standards, and she will turn them down.

“We hold it as our responsibility at the career center to make sure that the positions that we’re posting online, if they’re unpaid, it’s legitimately unpaid, or it’s for academic credit,” Hart said.

She encouraged students to visit the Career Center if they need additional support in the internship process.

“If any student has questions about an internship, and they maybe need additional help besides just their academic advisor, that’s what we’re here for,” Hart said.

Temple’s Career Center is on the right track. Though Temple may not actively endorse unpaid internships without credit, they do exist. While students are already working hard and paying tens of thousands of dollars to earn their degree, they should not be expected to work for free. Hopefully, a national movement against unpaid internships that do not offer college credit will follow suit.

Michaela Winberg can be reached at michaela.winberg@temple.edu.

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