As students soon to enter the workforce, we find ourselves baffled by the premier paradox of the "real world": You can't find a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. The way to surpass this dilemma, we've been told, is to land a summer internship. With internships on our resumes, we are no longer deemed "inexperienced," and come graduation, we can compete for spots in an increasingly selective job market.
That is, if we can even land the internships in the first place. Students from all over the country are desperate to gain hands-on experience in the industries of their choice, and employers have come to realize that whether or not they offer paid positions, hordes of applicants will be knocking down their doors in an effort to "break into the field." Consequently, many businesses and non-profits offer for-academic-credit-only internships, a policy that in no way diminishes the competitive nature of the intern selection process, since unpaid experience is still experience, and experience is still the deciding factor between landing a job after graduation and moving back home.
While many students might be willing to take unpaid offers if for no other reason than to get their feet in the door, these organizations have made it clear that students must receive academic credit from their colleges, a stipulation that allows organizations to get away with not paying their interns. Students cannot simply "volunteer" for an advertising agency or a publishing firm?they must provide official documentation from their college that they are, in fact, getting something out of their experience besides just that?experience.
Because of Bowdoin's commitment to liberal arts education, the College does not award academic credit for internships. If a student wishes to pursue an unpaid internship, he or she can request that the Career Planning Center (CPC) write a letter in support of him or her to the potential employer, stating that while credit will not be awarded, the College does "encourage internships," according to the CPC's Web site.
We wonder how successful such a conversation will be when a number of competitors, who are playing by the organization's rules, also apply. In our experience, the encouragement of Bowdoin does little to persuade the organizations.
Another option for a student aiming for an unpaid internship is to ask a professor to sponsor his internship as part of an independent study that will be completed upon return to campus in the fall. Of course, if the student were to drop his independent study before the start of the semester, no employer would ever know. While we would like to think that students would not work to intentionally mislead potential employers in this way, there is nothing stopping students from taking advantage of this evident loophole.
It seems to us that if Bowdoin graduates are to continue to be competitive in their fields, the College must find a way to make students eligible for academic-credit-only internships. There is no silver bullet for this problem. Of course, employers who can afford to pay interns could and should start compensating them for the valuable work they do, but since this is not going to happen anytime soon, the College should work to find a solution. For instance, it could award half-credits for internship programs or create an independent study policy conducive to internships. The current system, which either makes students unattractive candidates in competitive fields by requesting that they receive special treatment or requires students to manipulate the system, cannot stand.
As Bowdoin students, we may be "at home in all lands and all ages," but our eagerness to serve the common good will be quickly lost on many potential employers who see our internship-free liberal arts resumes as stark.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Bobby Guerette, Beth Kowitt, Anna Karass, Steve Kolowich, and Anne Riley.