Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Unpaid Internships Allow Wealthy Students to Build Resumes, ‘Buy’ Work Experience

Welcome, students, to the resume auction.

Here’s your chance to buy the perfect resume, customized to land you the best job you can imagine upon graduation. The bidding starts at $100 per line. Do I hear $110?

Some students would scoff at the idea that one could simply buy items for their resume. To others, it may seem wishful thinking – inviting, but unlikely.

Few would consider that many already do it.

Georgetown students are no strangers to internships. Washington, D.C,, was a city of interns long before Monica’s Oval Office antics thrust them into the national limelight. Between Capitol Hill, the White House and countless government agencies, think tanks, non-governmental organizations and media outlets, the District seems to offer an internship for every student.

Everyone who can afford it, that is.

According to a 2006 survey by the career information Web site, about half of all internships in the U.S. are unpaid.

In Washington, the number of unpaid internships may be far greater, as the surplus of prospective interns means employers have little cause to offer monetary incentives to attract applicants, Carol Anderson of the Career Development and Placement Office at New School University said in a forum on

Unpaid internships are sound on legal grounds, as some are technically considered volunteer positions, while others are considered binding agreements of mentorship between an employer and an intern who works as a trainee and would not be performing the same duties as a paid employee.

And of course, the fine print at the bottom of many internship applications guarantees that interns are hired on an “equal opportunity” basis, meaning they will not be discriminated against on the basis of their race, gender, religion, age, national origin or disability during the hiring process.

But this feel-good legalese overlooks one critical area: socioeconomic diversity. Unpaid internships favor students from more affluent backgrounds, helping to perpetuate glaring socioeconomic disparities.

Consider the cost of an average summer as a full-time intern in D.C.:

Three months of rent in Georgetown, at $800 a month: $2,400. Two-way Metro fares, 5 days a week for 10 weeks: $135.

Add $1,050 for food ($15 a day – a minimal estimate – for 70 days), for a total of $3,585, which does not account for nonessential expenses like social activities.

The internship experience may be priceless, but the cost of making it happen certainly isn’t.

Unpaid internships amount to paying for work experience and resume credentials. Since I doubt that most students finance such ventures entirely on their own, unpaid internships favor those whose families can afford to support them and who do not need to earn income themselves. This puts those of lower socioeconomic status at a disadvantage when it comes to accepting internships and, consequently, getting jobs.

Interning during the school year is a more financially feasible option; students from less affluent backgrounds would likely have university housing and a meal plan subsidized by financial aid.

But as part-time students do not receive many financial aid and insurance benefits, and because Georgetown rarely offers academic credit for internships, students must be able to intern and take a full course load, something that may shut them out from internships requiring a certain number of hours per week.

True, some internships offer weekly stipends. But a stipend of $150 a week for 40 hours a week internship amounts to $3.75 per hour. That’s a far cry from the Washington, D.C., minimum wage of $7.00 per hour, and an even farther one from the living wage of $10.50 per hour.

There are some scholarships, like the Alvarez Memorial Scholarship offered by the School of Foreign Service, that offer financial assistance for students demonstrating financial need with unpaid internships. But for those students who must do extra work to have the opportunities that come easily to others, even this does not ring of equality or justice.

Agencies and businesses offering unpaid internships – from the White House to Human Rights Watch – should consider taking more responsibility for the social consequences of how they view student labor. Interns should not be held as indentured servants, but regarded as valued workers and compensated as such.

In today’s cutthroat job market, every resume item counts, and an unpaid internship is sometimes the one factor that gives a student the necessary edge.

The world is still not “equal opportunity.” The only people who believe it is are idealistic unpaid interns living in townhouses their venture capitalist parents bought for them.

So let the auction go on.

Kerry McIntosh is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and a contributing editor for THE HOYA

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