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High cost of internships unfair to college students

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Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 2:20 pm

Summer is coming, and we all know what that means: it’s time to find some form of reputable work to keep you busy, put something on your resume and perhaps earn a buck or two. Many students will go out of their field to ensure a paycheck, but some of us can’t afford that luxury. Why? We need internships. Last summer I had one, and this summer I’ll have another. I’ll even be working as an unpaid intern through the school year. I love these opportunities, but many internships are unpaid, and there are even costs added to them. According to one study done by Intern Bridge in 2011, 83 percent of interns that receive credit for their work do so at unpaid internships.

Having an unpaid internship is still an asset in many ways. Students do get college credit from internships, which is a necessity to graduate for many majors. We also get the experience of testing out a field to see if we actually like working in it. I’ve additionally been able to work for causes that I fully support and had the opportunity to help organizations that were suffering to get back on their feet.

This all looks great, until you realize just what you’re not getting. Some institutions feel that the act of working with you so that you can receive your required credit is a great way to pay you back for your services instead of a paycheck. That’s all very sweet, but all they have to do is fill out a small evaluation form when you’re done with the internship. In fact, unless they offer to supply credit and/or educational experience, it can be illegal for an organization to obtain that much free work.

On our side, though, we have lost the opportunity to earn actual money, and if that isn’t enough, we often must pay for tuition on top of everything. Here at Valpo, that’s $500 a credit in the summer, and often you need two credits to fulfill the requirements. That’s at least 90 hours of unpaid work (which at only $10 an hour is $900). When considering the cost per credit and opportunity cost and without even taking transportation costs into account, we pay almost $2000 for an unpaid internship (the $1000 for two summer credits, plus losing the $900).

If Valpo did more for our internships, the tuition or cost per credit might be worth it. However, all that needs to be done is to approve our internship and review our evaluations and final paper (usually seven pages long). To be fair to our school, though, this is more than what is commonly done. According to Intern Bridge, a recruiting and consulting company, “of those getting credit, only 15 percent of interns reported that an adviser or faculty member visited their work site. 41 percent were not required to submit documentation about the experience and 33 percent did not receive a formal supervisor evaluation.” Valpo does require documentation and a supervisor evaluation, and so it is ahead of the curve. Also, Valpo has added expenses of paying to file all of our documents, to follow through on bad evaluations, and to answer the students’ questions. Charging some tuition is not absurd; it’s charging so much that makes me skeptical.

After all, Valpo “Not only… get[s] to collect money in return for not offering a full class, they also get to claim credit in the greater world for offering their students both book learning and opportunities to acquire real-life smarts.” Valparaiso University is perfectly entitled to asking some tuition for off-campus internships, but not as much as they do.

Therefore, though I’m happy to have the opportunity to intern for companies that I admire, I wish that those companies would be a little fairer to students and I hope that educational institutions such as Valparaiso University will learn to do the same.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch. Contact Alyssa Pfluger at

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