Seniors, be smart to get academic internships

Oct 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Internships, News

Graduation means the end to academic internships<br>©   Kenneth C. Zirkel, iStockphotoBy JOE GRIMM

The journalism internship picture for 2010 is coming into focus and it is not pretty.

It seems that several newsrooms will not be offering any internships at all and some that had been offering paid internships will be going the unpaid route.

This raises a special challenge — and strategy — for 2010 graduates looking for internships.

One way companies get around wage and hour laws with their unpaid internships is by offering them as academic internships — for college credit only.

I have said it before: Interns do real work and should be paid.

Unpaid internships screen out people who do not have enough household wealth to work for nothing. That eliminates talented people from low-income households and narrows the journalism field at a time when we should be opening it up.

Another group that can be hurt by the credit-only model is graduating seniors. One of my students at Michigan State University, a senior who is applying all over, said he is hearing from newsrooms with unpaid internships that say they will not take graduating seniors. The newsrooms can’t use the for-credit dodge on people who are graduates.

This puts him and other seniors in a bind.

Just this sort of thing happened to me when I was coming out of school more than 30 years ago and looking for an internship. One newsroom told me it couldn’t take me because I was graduating. It never explained why and I never understood. Maybe now I do.

Here’s a strategy for seniors who can afford to work for nothing and who might run into this nasty strain of senioritis: Arrange the last year of college so that it is all done except for credits you could use to do an internship. Tell employers, “I’ll be all done except for a couple credits, which I would like to earn working in your newsroom.” That should do the trick.

This can be easy to do in the fall, when many internship offers get made. Just tell employers that your last year of college can include that internship.

In the last semester of college, this can be more difficult. Most seniors will be only too glad to graduate and walk with their friends — unless staying longer can mean landing an internship. If the offer comes too late, dropping a class to be academically eligible would mean throwing tuition money out the window.

So, seniors, keep your options open as you look this fall. Don’t become so committed to graduating “on time” that you accidentally disqualify yourself from a chance to get that internship. Whether you officially graduate at the beginning of the summer or the end will be academic.

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One Comment to “Seniors, be smart to get academic internships”

  1. Eric says:

    A senior journalism myself, I’ve learned from my mistakes with the internship search. All of these things Mr. Grimm mentioned are very true. Publications are not looking for interns like they once did, and it severely undermines the work and potential that a student-intern has to offer. First of all, a publication has no reason to eliminate an internship position completely. If they can’t afford to pay an intern, then offer it unpaid. If no one applies… oh well. But eliminating internships completely does no good to the student in desperate need (As we all are. For most of us, an internship is a requirement for graduation). If we choose to accept an unpaid position, that is our choice and we’ll live with the consequences. Secondly, pay us! Most publications, believe it or not, rely heavily on the work done by interns. Without us, your work days become longer and more stressful. We do all of the work you’d rather not do. In the long run, you’ll probably find out that you’ll need to hire a full-time position to do all of the work interns used to do for you. Yes, economic times are very hard right now, especially for the journalism industry. But let’s not go overboard. Mr. Grimm’s correct, discouraging students by eliminating or offering only unpaid internships will result in a smaller and probably less-talented workforce to select from once this generation’s journalists begin to retire (that is, if retirement is possible for the average journalist anymore). Here’s a few other suggestions I have for younger students in search of an internship:

    1) Get one early! Don’t wait until your last semester and avoid many of these problems altogether.
    2) Don’t be picky with your first internship. Find a local, part-time position that will satisfy your graduation requirements. Chances are that it will be unpaid. In that case, do the minimum required hours to get credit so you can still take a decent load of courses in the fall or spring semesters. Having experience at a small internship position is a lot more impressive on a resume when applying to a big internship in comparison to classwork clips.
    3) Go big with your second internship. It’s ridiculous that a lot of decent publications out there require more than one internship these days when looking to hire, but it’s true (Doesn’t anybody remember that we have 120 credits of classes to take? Give us a break. We learn things in the classroom, too). Look for something paid. If you did quality work at your first internship, you’ll get a lot of looks. Also, make this second one more of a time commitment if you can afford to. The more hours logged equal more clips and more positive references.
    4) It might not be as fun, but you’ll have a better chance at getting an internship during the fall or spring semesters. There’s a lot less student demand for internships but the supply usually stays the same. You’ll have a better chance at nailing that mid-class internship than you would in the summer.

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