The Struggle of Internship Applications
As the spring semester begins in all its wintry glory, many University of Massachusetts Amherst students are finding themselves in the throes of summer internship applications. Internships have become a staple for the students looking to step up their professional careers. They allow students to receive crucial industry insight and training. However, landing the perfect summer internship can be a daunting task. Two UMass Amherst juniors, Alexis Memmolo and Julia Graves, explain the trials and tribulations of the internship application season.
Memmolo, a public health major, spends almost five hours a week searching for and applying to internships. “I check Handshake every day. I check Google jobs every day. It’s always on my mind and the stress is increasing with each week that passes,” Memmolo said of her ongoing search. Graves agrees: “I apply to at least one internship a day. Some I don’t even want, but I feel like I have to.” They are not an anomaly in experiencing this pressure. There are a variety of obstacles in place that create stress among students searching for a summer internship.
The first obstacle students face is that internships have become highly competitive due to the number of students applying to them. For example, Google estimates that almost 2,000 students apply for one intern position at their headquarters. Even if a student’s resume and cover letter are flawless, they are likely competing with students who have performed similarly. The pressure to stand out just to land an interview is enormous.
Another major obstacle for students is the financial barrier created by unpaid internships. While the experience is what is most valuable, unpaid internships limit many students as to where they can work.
As a student with no additional source of income, Graves said: “Few students can afford to pay rent and buy groceries while working unpaid full time. I’m one of them. I could make a lot more money working as a waitress or a barista this summer, but I need the experience [of an internship]. I made $10,000 as a waitress last summer. This summer I’d be lucky if I get paid.”
The inability to afford an internship is especially true for students that live far outside of a major city like Boston or New York City. The majority of internships for UMass students are concentrated in these two cities, but the cost of commuting from the suburbs can run as high as $600/month. Considering a paid internship pays the Massachusetts minimum wage, $12.75 per hour, the average student couldn’t even make back commuting costs in one week.
Moving into the city isn’t much of an option either with average monthly rent in Boston at $2,400. “I can realistically only look for an internship that provides a housing or commuting stipend if they do not pay me,” says Memmolo “Even then I’m losing money.” This is a serious consideration for the typical broke college student who needs an income while in school.
Finally, the third obstacle for prospective student interns is balancing school work with internship applications. Anyone who has filled out even a short application knows how time-consuming the process can be. Memmolo’s average process looks like this: First, she must tweak her resume for the specific job posting. Ensuring that the resume fits the job’s desired qualifications, the next step is to write an entirely new cover letter. This step requires appealing to a new audience, so it’s unlikely that even the template of a previous cover letter can be reused.
Then there’s the process of filling out a company-specific application. These usually require students to answer questions about their experience, goals, and character. Some of these questions are just plain redundancies of a previously submitted resume. Considering that most college students take four to six classes, participate in clubs, work jobs, and have a social life, internship applications are a necessary yet burdensome task. The process, along with the pressure of actually finding an internship that is relevant to a specific major and well-paying, is immensely stressful.
There is reason for students to be hopeful despite all the stress induced by internship applications. Both Memmolo and Graves attest to the helpfulness of UMass Career Services. They can help students improve their resumes, cover letters, and interviews. The hard part of the process is the process, but it doesn’t have to be tackled alone.
Each academic department even has a career advisor who can help students with industry-specific goals. The UMass Communication department even runs professional development days. During these days, students can have their Linkedin profile reviewed, headshots updated and resumes improved. The Communication Department also hosts career fairs, where students can meet with prospective employers on campus.
Landing an internship can feel just as stressful as applying to college. What students need to know is that there are support systems available inside their own major. At the end of the day, students should remember that it’s all a learning process. Slow down, enjoy the process, and begin to learn about the professional world.