At PolicyMic, Sarah Kendzior explains why you should never ever take an unpaid internship (but you will nonetheless because you have no choice). (via tarot-sybarite)
Okay, before I say anything else, I just want to say that I agree with this so much and have expressed similar sentiments before. Unpaid internships are a racket, are destroying entry-level positions, and privileging the elite. I say this knowing that my unpaid position just landed me a (paid!) full-time job, working for the Mayor of a large Midwestern city, 37th most populous in the country. I believe I was offered this entry-level position due to my skills, relationships built during the internship, and the luck of being in the right place at the right time. I do not regret my decision to intern and would feel the exact same had this position not opened up during my time at the City. I’ve had a year’s worth of internship experience at two different organizations and believe I have gained skills as well as prestige, and that I am a more viable candidate in a competitive marketplace.
THAT BEING SAID, I want to address a few things mentioned in the article that I see over and over again, and make me question the ways in which my generation (“millennials,” late 80s-early 90s babies) are dealing with our unique and precarious economic situation. The author of this piece makes many claims based on the idea of survival, but is that really what we’re doing?
1) How on earth is everyone graduating with such “stratospheric debt?” Like, over $100,000? I can agree that college tuition is insane and often not feasible to the poor, but what about those from moderate-income families? I went to a public university that cost about $9,000 a semester. 9 semesters = $45,000, and I financed part of that through scholarships. This debt is manageable.
Let’s face it: most of us are not elite and will not attend elite schools. I feel like— if tremendous tuition is the new normal— one must consider the potential return on their investment when selecting a college and a program of study. Maybe it’s wise to pay $100,000 for an engineering degree, but not the same for, say, an Art History degree? (I say this as an English major, mind you.) Most degree programs allow you room specifically to explore subjects that interest or select a minor, so I’m not suggesting that we abandon liberal arts education or something, as many think-pieces would (oddly) attest is the direction we’re headed in. Education has an unquantifiable value in terms of personal growth, and it also has a price tag. You have to think about both.
Also, what set of goods are we buying here? I think many people my age and, now, younger, feel entitled to some sort of “college experience” and squander their finances on alcohol, expensive on-campus housing, and travel abroad. Why not (granted, if it’s an option,) live with family and attend school close to home to save money? Why not, oh, work to finance expenses directly outside of tuition? (You will not believe the amount of people my age I have seen pay living expenses with borrowed, student-aid money.) The author here makes it seem like we attend college due to economic rationality based in “survival” in the “prestige economy,” but that is not the only reason, and may not be the brunt of the cost.
2. WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU GET MULTIPLE GRADUATE DEGREES, particularly if you are a generalist? The author says “we now require years of unpaid internships and exorbitant advanced degrees” for meager job prospects. Getting many degrees is not a good strategy in most fields. Studies have shown that most post-grad degrees raise one’s income and job prospects ONLY when they are coupled with commensurate experience in their field. I have noticed this in the non-profit/public sector a lot: many jobs do require or strongly encourage Masters degrees, but only for candidates who are mid-career professionals. No one wants a 25-year-old MA who has never actually done work (paid or unpaid) in their field.
So, again, while I do agree with 90% of what this author is putting forth (ESPECIALLY the part about living in affordable, small cities, yay!), I feel like there has to be a point where we, as millennials, look at ourselves and find more effective ways to adjust to this economy and make it work for us. If you hate the prestige cycle in academia, don’t fight the hoards for adjunct positions. You could go work for AmeriCorps or something; make just as much money, and actually help your community/learn skills. (And don’t worry, folks, there’s NO prestige here!)
I am not trying to ignore or obfuscate the systemic problems at hand; I just don’t find it necessary to repeat them. The author makes fine, valid points. I just think, if this IS the new normal, we really need to, as a group, make sure we aren’t further screwing ourselves by forgetting that there are cheaper alternatives.