For most college students, summer means 1 thing: the anxiety of finding an amazing internship. Finding that amazing internship is an exhausting process – this summer I applied to more than 15 publications before I received an offer. Throughout my internship search, I was really surprised to see more and more internships with the requirement: "MUST be able to receive academic credit." For those who are unfamiliar, this requirement is part of the world of internships because of a number of large companies that took advantage of interns, using them as unpaid labor instead of students part of a mentorship program.
On one side, I understand why some companies are nervous about lawsuits, especially when the journalism world recently watched Conde Nast's internship program shut down over some angry unpaid interns. Conde Nast isn’t the only corporation that’s dealt with these expensive lawsuits. Other companies such as Viacom, have paid up to 7 million dollars to settle with interns. Academic credit provides a legal bargaining piece, proving that not only is the employer benefiting from the partnership, but that the student comes out with something to show as well.
On the other side, I believe that in a lot of ways this requirement is hurting these organizations and hurting the interns that apply to work for them. What many employers 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 (among many others) 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. The summer 2015 cost per credit at Syracuse University is $1,112.
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 a CUNY FIT summer housing dorm. NYU apartment-style summer housing can cost up to $408 a week. For students who cannot afford to work an unpaid job during the summer these costs could be devastating to a budding career. With the added obstacle of requiring many students to pay to receive credit, these companies are perpetuating the fact that only privileged students from wealthy families have the opportunity to even apply. In doing so, this closes the door for many students, along with limiting diversity among these competitive, in my case the journalism sector.
This summer I am one of many students paying outrageous costs just to qualify for a summer internship. While I understand how interns are misused as cheap labor, I also 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.