Columns, Opinion

TENTINDO: Overhaul the internship

Summertime is about relaxing by the beach, seeing old friends and getting the perfect Instagram. Or is it about getting the perfect internship, subletting an apartment and meeting new coworkers?

Increasingly, summertime is no longer a break from education, but rather a time to pack with as many resume-boosters as possible. The summer internship trend is reaching an apex right now, with many current students being harmed by its popularity.

Never has the role of an intern been glamorous, but it is seen as a rite of passage for many career fields. Professionals, professors and students proclaim internships as a “necessity,” but they remain elusive to a great portion of students.

Internships, especially unpaid internships, are costly to some of the students who need them the most. Opportunities to break into competitive fields require connections, which build upon one another as you move deeper into the field. Unpaid internships require financial support from an outside source (a second job or a parent) and sometimes offer little benefits besides a new line on a résumé.

That being said, a good internship can be the first step on a ladder to the top. Internships can offer vital knowledge needed to jump start students into their career. Some even offer payment. But for many, an internship is an investment, and a risky one at that.

Internships should be given to qualified candidates, not only those who can afford them, as a way to expose students to the actual reality of their future workplace. Working a minimum-wage job to afford a full-time job seems like a non-sequitur, but it is what many college students face when managing their summers.

Enjoying a summer vacation can absolutely involve working an internship or job, and for most it does. It is a shame that some young people relinquish their free time to afford opportunities in order to get a career they covet.

Beyond unpaid internships, everyone knows a student who has worked an internship where the entirety of their tasks included sending emails and filling a coffee order. While their résumé may pack a punch, at what cost did they sacrifice their time? Could a recommendation even be written for them?

Companies can, and do, abuse the internship system, using their name and students’ eagerness to their advantage by hiring unpaid assistants. While not every company does this, the ones that do exploit a vulnerable population that feel as if they need the internship to have a chance in the future.

When upcoming professionals face this dilemma, many of them choose to take an internship for obvious reasons — everyone tells them they need it. An education is, in many ways, no longer enough to break into highly competitive fields. Older generations are working longer and younger people are earning degrees at higher rates, all while certain industries cannot keep up with the growth of the population attempting to enter them.

Summer has always been about relaxing. Especially in a colder city like Boston, enjoying summer is a necessity for mental and physical health. With potentially multiple unpaid internships and minimum- to low-wage jobs, students with packed schedules take summer as an opportunity to stretch themselves further and lose valuable free time to enjoy their break.

It is no secret that students face mental health issues at such a critical time in their lives. Without an opportunity to slow down, people can speed right by issues glaring them in the face.

Many people need to work during the summer, but in a broken system where unpaid internships are seen as an investment in the future and the present is filled with stress and hard work, is it all worth it? Especially when those investments are advertised as more beneficial than they actually are?

Students should not be punished for wanting to enter a career, and students with greater financial need should not have to rule out interning because they cannot afford it. Internships need an overhaul, starting with a promise that students are getting a fair deal, such as ensuring the educational benefits and providing financial assistance to make internships truly an equal opportunity.

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