When I decided to go to college, the one thing I had been told over and over is that internships are where it’s at. If you ever want to find a job in the “real world”, get an internship; if you ever want to feel like you’ve experienced college to it’s fullest, get an internship.
I’ve also heard from graduates that their one regret is that they wished they had applied for an internship. I figure that there must be some truth in the power of interning. However, internships also seem unreasonably time-consuming and under-paid for students who are trying to pay bills, rent, and college tuition from their own pockets.
Although I happen to be one of those students, I do appreciate the wisdom professors and past graduates have given me regarding volunteering, interning, and just plain getting “real life” experience in a specific field.
Yet, if I were to devote 20 hours a week to an unpaid internship where all they offer is “field experience” or a free meal here or there, I would be starving and living in my car. Some students simply cannot afford to attend classes, work an internship and then have another job that pays the bills.
I’ve had to make decisions about this over the past three years, about whether or not I could afford to devote most of my time to volunteering or working another job that paid highly, but wouldn’t offer me experience in my field.
I chose the job that offered pay because I had to be able to pay my rent and buy my food. It’s been hard to justify that college has been worth it because I’ve been holed up in classrooms instead of doing the real life work that an internship would have had to offer. At least I will have a degree to show for it, even though I, like many students, had to forego the internship option.
In surfing the net, I found hundreds of internships being offered in various fields from dance, to marketing, to holistic medicine.
Some of the most interesting things they actually listed as “rewards” for working 20 hours a week with no pay were beer, good fortune, “some meals”, better understanding of citizenship, shwag, and t-shirts.
Others included “achieving meaningful social change,” credit for school (which is tempting), experience in a professional production, and trading labor for art or web design services.
An internship in a desired field will always put me at an advantage. Unfortunately the way most internships are set up with no pay and many hours, students have no choice and cannot afford to sacrifice their paying job.