By: Kelley Holland | News Writer, CNBC’s “Money in Motion” Blog
Published: Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 | 6:00 AM ET
It’s become almost axiomatic that if you want to get a jump on your career, you need to start interning while you’re in college, if not before.
But it’s not that simple.
The pressure to land internships comes as students face a daunting job market, making the pressure for strong academic performance more intense. At the same time, rising tuition and other costs mean more students have to work to help defray expenses.
Meanwhile, lawsuits over unpaid internships are calling into question common practices for employers who use interns. (NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC, is among the companies being sued; it has been paying its interns since earlier this year.)
It also is clear that not all internships are created equal when it comes to being helpful to students. A survey of the 2013 crop of college graduates found that those with paid internships had a distinct advantage in finding jobs and being well-paid over those without internships—or with unpaid ones. In fact, unpaid internships seemed to have almost no effect on a student’s success in the job market.
With all the academic pressure on students and the questions swirling around internships, does a school-year internship make sense?
Internships are almost ubiquitous on campuses. In a survey of almost 2,550 recruiters and internship program providers by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, almost 65 percent planned to offer internships. Most are for the summer, but ones during the school year are less of a rarity.
Between 10 percent and 15 percent of undergraduates at the University of Chicago have school-year internships, and the practice has become increasingly common, according to Meredith Daw, the executive director of career advancement. Five years ago, she said, perhaps 10 students had them.
Students “just want to be as competitive as possible during the application process for a full-time job,” she said. “Schooltime internships are probably less competitive, so it’s a really good strategy for students who want to get experience with a for-profit organization but don’t have the previous experience.”
At the same time, Daw said, employers “just want to see that students are engaged,” and internships clearly indicate motivation and organization. Most pay at least as much as the work-study jobs on campus, she added. That means more students can choose to pursue school-year internships—a good thing, in her view.
“Five or six years ago, you could kind of disconnect with the job process during the school year,” Daw said. “Today, I don’t think you can as easily. It’s the same as it is for employees: You have to keep your network intact and [stay] knowledgeable in your field.”
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