Are Internships Fair?

In high school, students are taught that all of their actions leading up to senior year determine where they will attend college. As a result, these students are encouraged to join extracurricular activities, clubs, sports, and maybe even get a job outside of school, anything it takes to stand out among the crowd. Once these same students enter college, their goal now changes to obtaining a job upon graduation. Similarl to high school, students are encouraged to join clubs, volunteer, and work. However, one aspect of a students career which is heavily emphasized, even considered part of the college experience, is internships. Despite this, internships are not accessible to everyone. This creates the question: are internships classist?

There are several steps that go into securing an internship; the first and, arguably, the most important is, research. Several companies advertise for their respective internship programs daily. These posts can be displayed anywhere from job boards and company websites to social media. Many companies have even begun to advertise for their summer internships despite it only being November. Many students are unaware of this; some educators may be unaware, as well. This is no fault to the student or the school. For many potential interns, they are the first from their family to attend college. As a result, often these students do not understand how to navigate themselves through an internship search. Researching for an internship is an extensive process which can take months, Sometimes thousands of students are applying for an internship with only one available position. For a student who does not have established connections or understand how the process works, what are their chances of eventually being offered the internship position?

One of the biggest problems with internships and their lack of accessibility is there lack of affordability. Internships are overwhelmingly unpaid. Students are expected to work long hours, in some instances up to 60 hours a week, for no pay. Yet these interns are still required to get to and from their destination, as well as pay for their food. Working so many hours for free leaves very few hours to work an additional job for pay. If one is not getting paid at work, then where are they supposed to turn to for income? For many, asking parents for money is not an option as they do not have enough disposable income to provide their child with money that they should be getting from their employer.

The issues don't stop there. Once you get an internship, the challenge of living expenses may increase. Some of the biggest internships are housed in companies that are in the most expensive cities, like New York, Washington D.C., and LA. If students don't live in these areas or have family members that do, they must pay for housing. Very few internships provide their students with housing, and even fewer offer reimbursement.

Internships are seen as a foot in the door, a necessary step into gaining a position in their field after college. If students are unable to afford to work as an intern, are they offered the same positions as their counterparts? Companies limiting internships to students who are able to afford them limits the diversity in the workers in which they eventually hire. If not everyone is represented at the table, then not only do students suffer but the company suffers as well.