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Column: It’s always internship season somewhere

An open laptop inside of Davis Library displays the homepage of "Handshake", a site for students to discover job opportunities, on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.

The summer internship season has dwindled to a close, as the rush of LinkedIn recaps dies down and students begin the school year. For some, though, it’s already time to start pivoting to the next internship opportunity — or the deadline to secure a new one has arrived. 

Whether it’s pursuing a summer, spring or fall internship, it seems like there’s hardly ever breathing room to not be thinking about one. 

A popular method for gaining work experience 

Internships often train students with valuable skills and are practical soft launches into the professional world. Typically, interns offer their talents for school credit or some pay (if any), in exchange for an experience that hopefully becomes a resume booster. 

At their best, internships can be a formative learning experience that rewards young adults with fair compensation, professional skills and networks. 

For many college students, especially soon-to-be graduates, the internship is ideally a return ticket to employment post-graduation. It seems like a logical option that should support us in entering the professional world — if we can access it. 

Lately though, internships have become more and more of a prerequisite, rather than an option. Or, at least students seem to deem them so. 

Nearly 70 percent of the class of 2022 reported pursuing at least one internship during their time at UNC, with about 40 percent of graduates completing two or more, according to the University Career Services' website.

The total number of internships applied to by students also far exceeds the number of internships posted by employers. This past year alone, UNC students applied to over 64,000 internships on Handshake, a college student-oriented job-seeking platform. This was 1.7 times the amount of internships posted. 

This figure is also a sharp increase from the 47,500 internships students applied to on Handshake the year prior, and it is significantly greater than the increase in internship postings. 

It’s clear that many students hold internships essential to their career trajectory, but is their importance overvalued?

The growing craze for these pre-professional opportunities is understandable – having experience seems to provide tangible benefits in the job market. When it comes to competitive positions, tough hiring decisions favor college graduates with relevant internship experience, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. 

Internships can also be direct paths to employment. Within the class of 2022, around 11 percent of UNC undergraduates converted their internships into jobs post-graduation. 

It’s a feedback loop — the more students pursue internships, the more they are solidified as a qualification for future entry-level jobs… and internships themselves, too.

While not all internships are “first” internships, some of the more competitive listings expect experience or a compatible skill set on applicants' resumes. 

For example, The Chicago Tribune’s internship requires candidates to have “at least one internship at a daily news organization other than their college paper." In an article divulging the “Secret to Getting an Internship at JPMorgan Chase," a campus recruiter for the financial services company said they prioritize applicants’ past experience, such as internships. 

In cases like these, where organizations are asking candidates for internship experience, students are expected to complete learning elsewhere prior to even applying. Suddenly, trying to enter what is often meant to be a first foray into the professional world doesn’t feel so entry-level and attainable anymore. 

Internships are a privilege

Internships come with a number of barriers not everyone can afford. Some students need jobs that can guarantee more sufficient income. Some simply don’t have the means to access an internship — whether that is the connections and opportunities to land one, or logistical resources like time, transportation and money. 

Currently 29 percent of internship listings on UNC’s Handshake falls under the unpaid category. At best, they reward in experience and exposure — though many of us wish they paid the bills. 

Internships are not the only way

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As an undergraduate in a perpetual state of anxiety about her future career prospects, I know the urgency and pressure to grasp the right pre-professional footholds will always be there. 

Especially with the so-often reminder from peers talking and posting about their internships, it can feel like another enormous burden on top of handling a course load in college and balancing other life responsibilities. 

On the bright side, internships are not the only place to gain valuable skills — there are many job opportunities, fellowships and work-study programs around, and there’s plenty of learning to be done in the classroom, too. 

If you are a student seeking an internship, I implore you to look beyond the most visible opportunities on campus, which are usually from big-name companies that can afford recruiters.

Reach out to employers who may have less presence — if anything, it’ll also mean that much more to them that you went out of your way. Search for opportunities that allow you to be fulfilled, to get you through the ever-lasting internship season.


@dthopinion | 

Le Ha

Le Ha is the 2023-24 opinion editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an editorial board member. Le is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and information science, with a business minor.