By: Kaitlin Thach, ED Summer Intern
For many students in higher education, internships are an entryway into the workforce, offering them an opportunity to work in their field of choice and gain first-hand insight into a potential career field without long-term commitment. While time in higher education is an important period for students to grow, meet new people and experience life from a different perspective, it is ultimately about preparing for a future career path. Although internships can improve a graduate’s qualifications when searching for employment, there are existing inequities that prevent students from obtaining an internship in the first place.
Real work experience
Under an internship, students can undertake projects in a real working environment. This experience offers a valuable glimpse into what it’s like to work full-time for a living and presents insight into what it takes to do well in a chosen field. Although lectures allow students to gain an understanding of a certain subject, experiential learning occurs when you put what you learn into practice through internships and projects and students need both. Being a student around professionals lends opportunities to learn how to carry yourself, be accountable to your work and your coworkers, and make important contributions to your workplace setting.
When working in a real-world environment, students will get to meet many people in the field they are interested in. Internships give students crucial network experience as they can exchange ideas and learn from employers, mentors, industry experts and more. These networks can then be added to a personal resource library that students can tap into for extra information or support in the future.
With work experience outside of schooling and student organizations, internships provide resumes an extra dimension to existing experience. Short-term, out-of-class experiential learning can demonstrate to future employers that the student can put their education to real use and give a student a leg up when competing with other new graduates in their industry field.
Accessibility/Low earning potential
After completing an intense application and interview process, some internships are still unpaid. If an internship pays little or not at all, it becomes difficult for many students to justify an unpaid internship if they could instead earn wages through paid work during the same time period. Furthermore, with the costs of travel, housing, food, and more, unpaid internships can cost thousands of dollars that students do not have at their disposal. Internships with a low earning potential discriminate against those who are unable to work without financial compensation.
When there is a large pool of students applying for similar roles in the same industries and companies are only offering a few places at a time, students find themselves competing against one another to obtain this summer experience. Along with the pressure to gain an internship in the first place, this sense of competition can demoralize students.
The pandemic has opened the door for remote internships and has allowed students who may have not had the opportunity prior to gain this real-world experience online, but there are still students who face barriers. Remote interns require access to stable internet connection, adequate equipment, and a relatively quiet place to work. Accessing these requirements can be difficult for students when they are unable to afford high-speed internet, have inadequate resources, and live with roommates to keep rent down, or at home with family with little private space.
Internships allow students to take what they have learned in the classroom and practically apply those skills into real-world situations, but they are not accessible to all students. Employers, internship placement organizations, and schools should be responsible for reforming policies that limit access and exacerbate inequity.