“Internships will help you succeed — you’ll get hands-on experience in your field of interest and make connections of a lifetime!”
Those familiar words of advice ring through the ears of every college and graduate student, adding a cherry on top of the pressures they endure. During winter and summer breaks and post-undergraduate studies, students are in a race to find internships, as they “serve as an important signal that students are ready to enter the workforce,” according to Matthew Hora, writer for Fast Company magazine. It has been shown in studies that students who listed an internship on their resumes received 14 percent more offers for interviews than those who didn’t. Hora’s findings also show students have lower rates of unemployment, higher wages and better grades when an internship is obtained. While it is widely encouraged to seek out internships, there should not be this much pressure focused on it. People need to acknowledge that students are stuck between the choice of making money or getting experience through an internship, which is a difficult decision, especially during a pandemic.
The main difficulty of applying to internships is that students are uncertain if they should be spending time to learn more about their field or what they are interested in or if they should instead take the opportunity to put a few more dollars in their pocket. Most students don’t even have that luxury to decide — they know right off the bat that they need to make money to financially support themselves. Statistics from Time Magazine and the Washington Post state that about 43 percent of internships at for-profit companies do not pay, while about 60 percent of all internships are completely unpaid. This high rate of “paid in experience” internships gives many students a clear incentive to work and support themselves instead of getting an internship. In a CNBC article, a student spoke out about the financial burdens of college. Crystal Cox, a junior at the University of Missouri, said, “In my first two years at college, I’ve had to make a decision that my high school self could not have imagined: Go to class or be able to afford to eat. This is the reality that I, and many students who come from low-income families, face.” Clearly, students are experiencing such financial pressures that they even have to miss class to work, let alone have the time to apply or complete internships.
The pressure to acquire an internship is especially strenuous on low-income students because they cannot afford the time and need to work to make ends meet. According to CNBC, eight out of 10 college students are working during school. Working while learning adds more stress and takes a toll on students, not only on their mental and physical health, but their academic careers as well. Anthony P. Carnevale, a research professor at Georgetown University says, “Fifty-nine percent of low-income students who work 15 hours or more, leaving them with less time to study and complete assignments, had a C average or lower.” With that said, combining a student’s low GPA and lack of time for internships negatively impacts their future and ability to compete for jobs, which is unfair. Cox argues, “There’s an erroneous belief that the younger generation is lazy and entitled, but I don’t think that people understand the amount of pressure we’re under. We are overworked and underpaid while trying to better our lives, or even just to make ends meet.” All students feel the pressure of getting an internship, but many actually cannot afford to, especially when most internships are unpaid.
This pressure is emphasized even more during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers and companies have changed their internship format from in person to remote or canceled them all together. CNBC reported a survey from employment platform Yello which showed “that a little over one-third of students … indicated they had a summer internship offer said it has since been canceled” and 64 percent of student internships that have been canceled without any kind of alternative offer. According to the survey, “ percent of students said that they have been offered a postponed internship [and] 7 percent said they were guaranteed a final round interview next year.” The job market being on-hold limits many opportunities for students by adding new struggles of applying for internships. Students are unable to get a sense of what the job is like, which can add to anxieties or confusion of students’ career choices. This also puts a strain on students because many are worried if they don’t have the experience from internships, they could get denied when actually applying for jobs. Sharon Hansen, director of career and postgraduate development at Ursinus College agrees, noting that “the healthy job market that existed just months ago is gone, and this has heightened the anxieties of college seniors worried about postgraduate employment.” Normally, postgraduate students are thrown into the “real world” with prior experiences and an entry-level job, but since the onset of the pandemic, everything is uncertain and up in the air — causing pressure and distress.
Most of the time when the word “internship” is brought up, negative feelings or feedback arises. This is due to all the pressure that is put on students to find an internship, because we are told right from the beginning that having internships are crucial to following the road of success. However, this intense pressure needs to subside and it should be acknowledged that many people cannot afford to get an internship because they need to work and financially support themselves, especially during this pandemic.
Willa Scolari is a junior majoring in psychology.