U.S. News internship list reinforces value of hustle and pay

This week, U.S. News & World Report checked in on the universities that produce the most internships. The list is a timely reminder of how important internships are to students and how career services centers operate at universities.

The missing ingredients from the report, though, are an X factor -- hustle on the part of students -- and a $ factor -- whether or not the internships pay.

Through 20 years of journalism recruiting, I periodically have run into college students who complained that career services did not find them an internship. That is not the way things work. Such dependency makes me wonder how the student will survive later when, clearly, he or she will have to find jobs for themselves. When I hear a student complain that someone else has not worked hard enough to find work for him or her, I move that student down my list.

The best interns are self-starters who land multiple internships. They work with a school's career services center -- if they are lucky enough to have such a resource -- but they do not cede responsibility for their future. They do not use it as a scapegoat for their lack of offers in a lousy economy.

The U.S. News internship survey showed that, of the 692 schools that responded, 36.8 percent of 2009 graduates had received an internship.

That tells us a few things. One is that most students do not get internships, even among universities that are happy to fill out surveys about such things. Looked at another way, you'd have to say that getting an internship is not a huge advantage if only more than a third of students at these 692 universities had one. No one going after a job is content to be in just the top third. The University of Pennsylvania, at the top of the U.S. News list, reports that 90 percent of its 2009 graduates had worked internships.

While ahead of all the other universities, Penn students are tied with each other -- unless they get multiple internships. The Penn system obviously works well in getting students work experience, but even there, the student who hustles will rise above the rest.

Tuition and fees at Penn, a private university, are $40,514 this school year, according to U.S. News. And that is the $ factor.

Eight of U.S. News' top 10 internship-producing universities are private. By definition, that makes them more expensive than public universities. The top internship-producing public universities on the U.S. News list are the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Pittsburgh.

The survey doesn't get into this, but I wonder how many of the internships are unpaid. No doubt, some of these universities are models of requiring students to get internships and then building pipelines to them. I wouldn't take anything away from that.

But we have to believe that families that find ways to pay $40,000 a year for tuition and fees might also have more ways to afford to have a son or daughter work for free. The financial demographics that open up many students' choice of colleges also seem to open up internship doors.

When internships are unpaid, as is the case with many of those at broadcast outlets and magazines and, I fear, a growing number of those at newspapers and online news organizations, the ability to work for low wages or no wages becomes the top job requirement. That is a lousy situation.

We simply need to have more paid internships so that careers and labor forces can be built on the basis of hustle and talent and not so much on the basis of how little you can work for.

Questions about careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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