College-bound students are likely to be pressured earlier into career-related decisions. One such pressure is to take on an unpaid internship. The hook is that the unpaid internship be credit-bearing. In effect the intern pays their school for the privilege of gaining valuable work experience. This is the “double-whammy” of unpaid internships. These experiences are as much classes as they are opportunities. If you don’t complete them, you don’t complete the major or a degree.
If you qualify for the Federal College Work Study program, the student employment office or career services, whichever manages the program on campus can try to find you student a paid position that matches their career interests or provides an opportunity for skill development.
Not every job on campus is funded under Work Study. Some positions, including part-time jobs with the athletic department, are available from year to year.
These come in different forms depending on the project, the work involved and the funding. Students can assist faculty members on their research or ask faculty to support a proposal of their own. The best assignments allow undergraduates to work one-to-one with a faculty member, even at a very large university. These assignments can be for pay, stipends to cover expenses, or for academic credit.
More and more schools are offering projects where teams of students work with employers to solve a real-world business problem. These classes, like student teaching, require considerable faculty involvement. The faculty member will usually be the main contact with the employer. These assignments are almost always for credit, with expenses paid by the school as well as the employer.
The best of career centers can arrange for students to receive either paid internship assignments or work in co-op. The difference between an internship and a co-op is that co-ops run during two or three full semesters of a student’s education beginning in the sophomore or junior year. During the co-op period students pay no tuition for regular courses, only a co-op fee. While the co-op will provide more hours and opportunities to work more than once for the same employer, it may also require a student to graduate a year later. Co-op is most commonly associated with science and engineering majors, though many business students participate.
The idea behind any of these alternatives is that the student always wins. S/he is more likely assured a wage, an academic experience, or ideally both. Too many unpaid internships offer neither.
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