Landing an internship comes with a price tag

Parents, students and others gladly pay thousands of dollars in college tuition to ensure a financially sound existence after graduation. The American dream is founded on the ideal that if a person works hard enough, he or she can achieve anything.

A student must spend countless hours studying, networking like crazy, landing a few internships along the way, completing a degree and then maybe with some luck a job offer will appear.

But what if no matter how much effort you put into your aspirations, there are people out there without the grades, ambition or skills who could still snatch up opportunities you deserve?

Turns out there’s a fast track where some students get to skip over all the aches and pains, but still achieve the goals of their more dedicated peers.

Starting-level jobs achieved through internships are common for fresh graduates. For most of us, achieving our dream jobs will require a combination of experience, personal zest for a subject and a decent GPA. Pretty soon “a few extra thousand dollars” may be added to that list.

In her article “Internships for Sale” in the Wall Street Journal, Ellen Gamerman exposed the disturbing tactic some are using to get ahead. Rather than applying for an internship position the old-fashioned way, ritzy parents now have the option of buying their child an internship at auctions across the United States. Of course, these auctions are usually found at only the most elite universities and high schools. These parents are willing to spend ridiculous amounts of money. For example, a one-week internship at Electronic Arts sold for a whopping $4,000 during an auction at the Urban School of San Francisco. This is an absolutely unfair advantage.

Sadly, auctions are just the beginning. Timothy Noah of Slate Magazine writes in his article “Opportunity for Sale” that organizations like University of Dreams will guarantee an internship – for a price. Of course, University of Dreams says students are simply paying a “tuition fee” ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. That’s not far from the cost of in-state tuition for a semester at the University of Kansas. As if those who can afford to buy internships aren’t already benefiting from their financial stability (i.e., affording the best universities, tutors and housing).

With the current economic situation, many students are feeling the pressure to ensure jobs after graduation. Terrified at the thought of another summer without an internship, desperate students may do whatever it takes to build a resume and eventually land a job, even if it means forking out some extra cash. Companies taking advantage of students’ desires to succeed by selling internships is just wrong.

I thought the point of an internship was to give students experience that would assist them when establishing a career – not put them deeper in debt. I can’t imagine how these companies justify exploiting an adolescent’s goals.

But the students are at fault, too. After all, what is the point of spending so much money to attend college if you still have to buy your way into the work world? I also can’t help but wonder how much respect interns who got their positions via mommy and daddy’s money would have if their peers were aware of their situation.

If you can’t land an internship on your own, maybe you should re-evaluate your dedication to school and your major – not take opportunities away from qualified individuals or encourage dishonorable companies.

This story was originally published by the University of Kansas’ University Daily Kansan on Feb. 20, 2009. Content was made available by