Educational Elitism Influences the Internship Process

The role of personal financial and social status within education remains a startling, almost laughably unfair factor in determining which students advance and which students are prevented from doing so. Unfairness in education carries with it a host of social and economic structural problems. Most are familiar with the idea that economic status plays an uncontrollable yet significant role in education starting in early childhood simply based on the idea that a child’s neighborhood (and thus his or her family’s economic status) determines the caliber of schooling the child receives. 

Wealthy children attend the most expensive schools and children of parents who are financially struggling attend the poorest schools. The wealthy children thus speed away from the less wealthy children in terms of educational gaps and end up advancing the furthest. Wealthy children are told the gaps of sucess come purely from hard work. Few exceptions are made. 

When one student is able to claw his or her way out of the systematic oppression, the news makes headlines and the U.S. decidedly exhales and declares the problem solved at last. This is a story many of us know well. However, I recently uncovered a small facet of such a large problem: the elitist nature of summer internships.  

Internships, in a vacuum, present wonderful ways of enhancing future careers for college students. They offer experience in potential fields so that students can determine whether or not they are best suited for different employment opportunities post-graduation. However, internships present a number of barriers against students of lower income backgrounds. 

The first barrier against lower income students in regards to internships is that different caliber schools have different calibers of resources for internship applications. Most highly esteemed universities have strong relationships with various companies, and thus maintain a correspondence so that students from that particular university are more likely to be accepted into internship programs for those companies. Students at less well known, less expensive universities may remain entirely unaware of internship prospects available for college students. 

The expensive nature of internships also widens the educational and professional gaps between wealthy and non-wealthy college students. While some internships are paid, they often require transportation into large cities or even housing in these areas. Those expenses alone can eliminate summer internships as an option for countless number of college students. Additionally, many college students are accustomed to working summer jobs in order to maintain personal or family finances. If an internship forces a college student to spend all of his or her summer earnings on purchasing transportation or housing necessary to complete the internship, they may not end the summer with any monetary gain. 

Unpaid internships present an entirely other set of complications. Again, many students may be unable to afford lack of income for an entire summer. However, some companies require students to receive academic credit in order to work unpaid internships. The logic makes sense initially. If employers are not paying students for their internship work, they should receive compensation of some form. 

Receiving course credit that goes towards graduating from college presents a viable option. Many companies, however, do not realize that a number of universities require students to pay the university for the number of academic credits they are receiving for completion of the internship. Often, universities require students to pay fees upwards of $1,000 per credit earned in order to receive academic credit from summer internships. The University charges a similar price for completion of an online course over the summer. Instead of failing to break even, students then encounter monetary deficits based on such policies. 

If summer internships are to remain the norm amongst college students’ summer activities, education systems need to work towards making internships more inclusive aspects of college life. Otherwise, internships will continue to pose another barrier that allows wealthy students to advance in the professional realm and leaves non-wealthy students behind due to no fault of their own.