Student Stories

The Problem Facing Students Entering the Professional World

This is a guest post by Drew Rauso for InternMatch’s Student Stories. If you’re interested in getting involved with Student Stories, learn more here.

unpaid-internship

Look at the title of this post.  Now look back here.  I assume 95 percent of you readers are now expecting that the next five minutes will outline a substantial problem and then offer a solution to said dilemma.  While I would like to think that I have stumbled upon some hidden treasure (i.e., just call me Nicholas Cage and we’ll have a third National Treasure movie already), I will humbly admit that everyone will already know the answers when I arrive at them.  So why keep reading?  Because you didn’t know you knew them!

 As a journalism major, I have had to deal with the statement that my industry is dying, newspapers are dying, no one needs reporters anymore, etc. With this “dying” industry comes one undeniable truth: media companies (at least most media companies) have no money.  And what does this statement mean to the still-in-school student?  The internships you’re applying to? They will not pay you.

And herein lies the biggest dilemma our generation has faced since all that ended: compensation is in experience, not monetary value.  Now, I will be the first to say that I completely stand by internships and the experience they provide.  I have developed excellent contacts and relationships through my internships (more on that later), and realize they are crucial for entry-level jobs and taking the next step in a professional career.  The importance of them partly stems from the fact that the coffee-bringing, dry-clean picker-upper internship of yore has largely gone extinct.  However, this only exacerbates the problem; talented students are working for companies that ten years ago, paid employees were doing the same tasks, except now they get slapped with an “Intern Joe Smith” name tag and receive college credit instead of cash.

With more and more colleges requiring internships before graduation, this is a recipe for disaster, or more realistically, a vicious cycle in which college students are forced to take internships that deplete their bank accounts in the hopes of a payoff down the road, which is definitely not a guarantee.

I am, however unfortunate it may be, the former intern of 4 (count ‘em 4!) unpaid positions.  Granted, one was a theater festival and one is billed as a class at school, but for all intents and purposes, they have been real-world experiences that have not paid a dime. Now, I met fantastic people and have great references from those positions, as well as awesome experience.  The one great thing about unpaid internships is that while you get to experience the industry and do real-world work, since the company isn’t paying you, there is a large focus on learning on-the-job, which was extremely useful.  I got to ask tons of questions, was connected to other professionals and basically be a student in the field.

In recap, I am the former recipient of a system that encourages experience over money.  While still frantically clinging to a social life, that means I have to produce some sort of income while at school through whatever means necessary, and thus, I present to you, Drew the Intramural Soccer Referee.  So, in my last semester at school, I manage 15 credits, an internship (three of the 15, but 18 hours a week) and a job.  I’m not looking for sympathy nor praise, I am just saying that in order to make money, I have to spend time I could be using to further my journalism portfolio, or taking away from other projects, in order to scrape together some cash.

I know there has been a lot of talk about banning unpaid internships, but until there is any actual bill, I’m not impressed. The situation is hurting companies (possibly losing out on qualified, talented students who cannot afford to apply for an unpaid position), students (those taking unpaid positions struggle financially in the short term afterwards and those who can’t for reasons just mentioned) and schools (employment success of schools’ students may drop due to lack of internship experience).

Unpaid internships need to end.  If that is seemingly impossible, which I just cannot believe to be true, then another solution needs to be developed, such as allocating more scholarships to students taking on unpaid positions.  I know that internships are vitally important and that culture cannot change, but please, make them more bearable beyond the hopeful dream that struggling to have some money in the pockets during school will payoff in the long run.

About the Author:

Drew Rauso is a senior at the University of Maryland studying multi-platform journalism.  He enjoys sports, travel and photography, and can be found discovering the best new coffee shop. Follow his day-to-day adventures on Twitter @DrewbieFresh.

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