Internship programs weigh experience versus income

GVL / Jessica Hollenbeck

Senior Joey Courtade works for the Housing and Resident Life Front Desk in Niemeyer.

Jessica Hollenbeck

GVL / Jessica Hollenbeck Senior Joey Courtade works for the Housing and Resident Life Front Desk in Niemeyer.

Sarah Hillenbrand

When looking for a job after college, it has almost become a requirement for many workplaces that college graduate applicants have experience in the field along with the degree. This is one of many reasons why different programs at Grand Valley State University highly recommend, if not require, having internship experience before graduation – even if it is unpaid.

“Employers are increasingly asking for students to have an internship before they even consider hiring them,” said Tim Penning, professor and associate director of the School of Communications. “If you don’t have an internship on your resume, it’s a lot harder for you to get a job.”

Penning said internships help students not only by giving them practical experience but also by helping them apply what they’ve learned in their classes to a workplace setting.

“It’s a good way to test out an industry or a type of work or a type of environment,” said Rachel Becklin, assistant director and internship specialist in Career Services. “It’s also a great place to apply what you’re learning in the classroom, so you’re really able to see the theoretical side put to use.”

Amanda Stansbie, internship coordinator in the hospitality and tourism management department, added that internships give students valuable experience in their field and make them much more likely to be hired.

“It helps them to be more marketable, helps them to build their resumes, and it gives them the experience that they need to be confident enough to apply for positions later on once they graduate,” Stansbie said. “It also helps them, more importantly, to decide if they’re on the right track. Overall, it’s just about getting experience in the field of their choice.”

Becklin said that for students who are considering unpaid internships and are worried about money, there are options to make it possible for a student to take the internship. The Career Center offers ten internship awards each semester, which is typically a $500 award, for students who are getting credit for their internship. Also, students can try to find a part time job so they are working while doing their internship, Becklin said.

Penning added that students who are considering an unpaid internship need to remember that they are not there just for the money.

“Some students complain about unpaid internships and the thing to remember is that an internship is an opportunity,” he said. “I remind students that even if it’s not paid, it’s not like there’s no value to it.”
Students who get an unpaid internship can sometimes negotiate with an employer to get a stipend that covers gas money to get to and from the business or other expenses, he added.

“The federal law says that students must either be getting paid or getting credit,” Penning said. “They can also get both, and some employers misinterpret that as having to be one or the other.”
Stansbie said students who are deciding whether to take an internship based on the money should meet with an adviser in the program.

“We try to work with them as best we can to make sure we get them the best opportunity rather than the best paid position,” she said.

Becklin agreed and said the experience and networking gained outweighs the costs.

“They’re typically worth it,” she said. “Whether they’re paid or unpaid, the benefits usually end up paying out in the end.”
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