The new semester has officially begun at Villanova and the pressure to solidify internships and academic pursuits for next summer is already intense. College students experiencing the fierce competition for internships and research opportunities are compelled to take any “professional” opportunity they can get – regardless if it pays.
The narrative of unpaid internships emphasizes valuable professional experience, the opportunity to make contacts and the promise of a recommendation at the end of the summer. This narrative fails to acknowledge the reality that many students face when figuring out their plans for the summer: How do I pay for… [insert bills here].
The concept of unpaid labor for experience gained by working in an office for eight weeks is problematic and excludes the majority of college students. Unpaid internships reinforce privilege by excluding those who have to pay for their own transportation, groceries, education, etc. and encourage an environment where students are thankful for experiencing exploitation.
The highly competitive internship process contributes to the ability of employers to successfully run an unpaid internship program. If students had more paid opportunities than unpaid, employers offering unpaid opportunities would lose a large percentage of talented potential interns. However, students feel compelled to take unpaid internships due to the highly competitive application process and the pressure to build a resume. Therefore, many students are excluded from the opportunity to intern because they simply can’t afford to work for free.
The reality of unpaid internships is working nights and weekends at minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. Experience and compensation should not be mutually exclusive for college students.