Are Your (Internship) Dreams Still Free?


Internships are essential. I am sure that you have heard that before. But how far should you go to get one?

Would you pay for the opportunity to work an internship?

Even if it meant you didn’t get paid?

Recently one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to passed around some articles and debated the idea of purchasing the opportunity to intern. Organizations such as University of Dreams will help you find an internship-for a cost.

This isn’t a new idea as this is something that has been going on for at least the last four years. Last year, I learned about this phenomenon by reading this article in the New York Times.

But the topic does generate great interest. Noah Baron, a student who writes for the Huffington Post (@noahbaron) chronicled the struggles that middle class students (let alone lower class students) encounter when working an unpaid internship.

When I first read the New York Times article a year ago, I was surprised that people would pay to work for free. It seemed so counter to my beliefs. And then I found out how much they paid….

What’s the situation?

Parents are starting to pay to get their students prestigious internships either through online auctions or through third-party agencies.

These agencies work to develop the student’s employ-ability by giving them resume and interview training or by simply creating a resume and cover letter package for them. In many cases, students are directly placed and the agency either takes a percentage of the student’s pay or the parent’s pay a flat rate fee.

Other organizations have started to sell unpaid internships online during a time when donations are down. Non-profit organizations that are in need have started creating internships with the intent to sell them. In a 2009 article, the Wall Street Journal highlighted this phenomenon including an organization that sold a one week music production internship for $12,000.

No, that’s not a typo…… week for $12K.

What do you get for your $?

Services such as University of Dreams state that their services allow organizations to reach out to smaller schools that are farther away. In many cases, students were able to gain international internships that might not have been otherwise available. Parents see these opportunities as part of their student’s education versus “buying up” opportunities. Furthermore, the organizations that provide these services say that most of their clients are middle-class families who make significant sacrifices.  Housing, transportation and other costs are typically built into the fee.

At first, I thought that this was a cut and dry situation that I was against. But now I wonder, is this the new “summer vacation?”  Is this something that is not completely black or white? Is there a grey area?

As someone who assists students with resumes, cover letters, and interviewing on a weekly basis,  I wonder where the gap exists between our services and  the student  who wants to intern in Barcelona in the fashion industry?

I have  many questions and I thought what better way to get them answered than to ask you, the readers. You may be a student, career center employee, a parent, or someone directly related to one of these organizations.

Tell me:

Where  do you think paid internships are heading and how far is too far?

Are parents helping by providing these opportunities for their children?

Is this fair?

Is this indicative of our culture and society?

[Note: This post was originally written for Dan Schawbel’s Student Branding Blog.]


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