Internships, especially summer ones, are vital to University of Maryland students’ educations. Talk to any Terp and it’s likely that he, she or they have worked at least one to pad out a resume with skills and experiences. Some schools and majors on the campus even require internships as part of their curriculum. That’s what makes summer internships more important; for some, dedicating 10 to 30 hours to an often unpaid internship during the semester in addition to taking classes, doing homework, working jobs and participating in clubs is overwhelming. Summer gives students a chance to complete the requirement without having to deal with academics and enables them to get a feel for the full-time work world beyond the campus.
And while it is important to gain work experience that can’t be found in the classroom, it’s equally important for students to work internships that will open their minds, teach them valuable skills that can be applied in the workplace and be fun and exciting. These internships don’t always come easy — or for free. Students working in different states might face exorbitant rents and high costs of living, not to mention costly travel and general burnout.
Internships are great, but only if you can afford them. This editorial board believes it’s the university’s job to provide resources for students who are supplementing their education with sometimes mandatory internships.
This university offers a Bright Futures scholarship fund to offset expenses incurred by students with internships in the non-profit and government sector. And while that’s a good start, a STEAM-focused institution needs to provide options to students who might be taking unpaid positions in the health, mathematics and arts industries and beyond.
Besides the financial toll, seemingly beneficial internships can turn detrimental and even illegal when interns are expected to do work above and beyond their position. The college internship stereotype is that all interns fetch coffee and do nothing of importance around the office. An internship like this might not be worth the time or resume credit, but it might also be illegal if it doesn’t correspond with the rules outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Being trapped in a situation like this can feel hopeless for students who spent countless hours applying for internships and who need the experience to finish their majors. The schools need to make a formal effort, whether through an online tip-sheet or appointments with the advising staff, to ally with students.
Internships are great, but a traditional job might appear more attractive to a student facing imminent debt. Plus, sometimes employers prefer the tale of the scrappy waitress who was selected for a high-profile internship and declined it on job interviews. If schools require an internship for graduation, they shouldn’t make students choose between happiness and graduating on time.