Some universities cap the amount of credit that students can earn through internships, which creates challenges for students who have already “used up” their internship credits.
Employers are looking for a lot more than just good grades from recent grads. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 57% of employers prefer applicants who have experience from an internship or co-op. But in an effort to gain this coveted professional experience, students are facing obstacles imposed by their own colleges and universities.
The U.S. Department of Labor has six regulations to determine the legality of internships, the main one being that the internship is “educational.” For this reason, many employers who are aware of the recent lawsuits involving allegedly overworked and under-compensated interns are not taking chances.
For example, Harper’s Bazaar — whose publishing company was sued last year by a disgruntled former intern — says not to bother applying if credit approval isn’t an option: “You MUST be able to receive college credit for this internship. NO exceptions,” blares the Ed2010 website, where they post their listings.
Some universities cap the amount of credit that students can earn through internships, which creates challenge for students who have already “used up” their internship credits but want positions that strictly offer credit as the only form of compensation.
Amanda Gomez, a junior journalism major at Emerson College, is one such student.
This fall, Gomez is working at a full-time internship at Voice of America in Washington, D.C. There, she will use up all eight internship credits that Emerson allows.
As for what she’ll do if future internship opportunities require academic credit, she’s not quite sure.
“I’m hoping another internship doesn’t care. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” said Gomez, adding that she’d be disappointed if she were unable to continue getting workplace experience. “Now that I’ve got the ball rolling, I want to keep doing it. I can’t imagine stopping.”
Students at Cornell University also hit this roadblock.
Torrey Jacobs, the registrar at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says it is not uncommon for his agricultural students to ask about exceeding the college’s strict six credit allowance.
“We do have lots of students who want to go over that,” said Jacobs, who has worked for the university for nine years. “Vineyards want students for a semester’s worth of time. It is problematic.”
Jacobs said that unless an influx of students came to her addressing this problem, the school will likely keep its policy in place to emphasize academics.
“We are course-based,” she said. “[We] want that structure where students are learning from professors.”
University-imposed internship credit limits are not unusual. Schools all over the country — including Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Siena College in New York, Sierra Nevada College in Nevada, Wayne State University in Michigan and the University of Missouri — all have similar provisions.
Laura Pavlo, a senior graphic design and English major at the University of Maryland, is grateful for her school’s unlimited internship credit policy and said she feels its flexibility has given her an advantage over competition at other colleges.
“Other schools should rethink their internship policies if the policies are limiting what a student can do outside of the classroom,” said Pavlo, who has earned nine credits through four internships so far. “In my experience, the projects I worked on during my internships provided more insight to my career path than what I have learned sitting in a classroom.”
Carol Spector, the director of career services at Emerson College, said that while Emerson’s eight-credit cap aims to focus student attention on class work, the school is conscious of the policy’s limiting nature for students like Gomez.
Starting this semester, Emerson is adopting a pilot program called the Professional Development Experience that allows students to intern up to two times for one credit instead of the standard four.
“It’s an alternative for students if they don’t have internship credit available or they don’t meet the guidelines for the internship credit, so they can satisfy what the employer is asking for and be able to have that experience,” Spector said, adding that the trial program will be observed throughout its first year.
While Gomez may find relief in Emerson’s new program, she said she would rather do away with limits altogether.
“Personally, I don’t really care about the credit,” she said. “I’m interested more in the experience and the resume boost than the credit itself.”
Lauren Berger, CEO of InternQueen.com and author of No Work, No Pay, said that while she sees why colleges have internship credit limits, employers should be more lenient when hiring interns who can’t necessarily earn credit.
“I think that there’s a big miscommunication with the whole credit issue,” said Berger.
“A lot of companies think they need to require credit to make their program safe and legal, and I don’t think that’s true. I usually tell the employer, if the student can get credit, great, but don’t make it mandatory.”
Berger added that although credit limits and requirements may be a challenge for some students, there are sometimes ways around them, such as having the college write a letter of academic support or receiving “transcript recognition,” written credit that doesn’t count toward degree requirements.
Basically, she said, it comes down to how badly the student wants the job.
“Most of the interns that come to Intern Queen break the rules and they go after what they want regardless of whether they can get credit or not.”
Christina Jedra is a junior at Emerson College.
What roadblocks have you faced when looking for an internship?
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