Internships Should Not Require Academic Credit
I'm looking for a magazine internship this summer, and I will probably be one of many students forced to pay thousands of dollars to hold one of these extremely competitive positions.
I'll admit it: I've applied to 17 internships for this upcoming summer. I know that seems like a crazy-large number, but between the competitive atmosphere, the number of publications that require in-person interviews (I'm studying abroad, so I don't even get past the first round of these places), and the straight-up rejections, 17 applications hasn't even been enough to get me a single offer.
Throughout my internship search, I have been surprised to see more and more internships with the requirement: "MUST be able to receive academic credit." While I understand why so many places require this now, especially when the journalism world recently watched Conde Nast's internship program shut down over some angry unpaid interns, I don't believe this is the way to deal with these lawsuits.
I believe that this requirement is hurting these organizations and hurting the interns that apply to work for them. What many corporations may or may not realize is that many universities, including Syracuse University, where I am a student, require students to PAY per credit for internships over the summer. So, essentially, these students are paying to have a summer job. Seems backwards, doesn't it? A few other schools (out of hundreds) that follow this policy are University of Illinois, University of Alabama, and University of Oregon (which has discounted rates for summer credits).
Other schools, such as Stockton University in New Jersey, require that students pay to receive credit for internships even when the position is held during the school year. Across the board, credit costs can be outrageous, amounting up to thousands of dollars.
It's also important to mention that these credit costs are on top of the cost to intern already - transportation and room and board if you're in a new city, which in the case of New York can be from $5,000-$7,000, if you choose to stay in an FIT summer housing dorm.
For years, journalism has come under fire for being a predominantly white and wealthy field of study. Even liberal media sources can only account for about 10% of their staff identifying as part of a minority. Initially, a main factor that contributed to this trend was that journalism internships were unpaid, taking those who could not afford to work for free out of the running for a position. Now, with the added obstacle of requiring many students to pay to receive credit, these publications are further perpetuating the fact that only privileged students have the opportunity to even apply. In doing so, this closes the door for many students, along with limiting diversity among journalists.
I don't know the answer. I understand how interns are misused as cheap labor, and why some have gone as far as suing the companies they have worked for. On the other hand, I believe that in a truly great internship, the mentoring you receive and the connections you make should be worth all the hours of unpaid work.
Ultimately, this is a dangerous cycle - one that needs to come to an end before it creates a thicker glass ceiling for the less privileged. While I can't provide a fix, I hope that more media companies take this requirement off their internship listings in order to make a more realistic, and fairly priced, internship experience for everyone.
(Header photo via socialplatform.org)