Classroom, campus, city – it’s practically our school motto. Emblazoned in promotional brochures, the words urge us to take advantage of all that Washington, D.C. has to offer.
For many students, this means participating in a for-credit internship through a school-sponsored service learning program. However, as a recent graduate of this program, I would like to let you in on a little secret you won’t hear from your adviser – it is hard to learn as much in an internship as you would learn in a three-credit class.
Our campus culture is obsessed with internships. Every day I am flooded with internship opportunities from the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Career Center. People routinely drop names like Goldman Sachs and The Washington Post into casual conversation about their internship experience. Internships are a not only a symbol of status, like a Louis Vuitton purse or a venti latte from Starbucks, but also a way to make a mark in the career world.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many internships do very little to foster academic and personal growth, and they cannot replace what is learned in a three-credit class. Since interns are at the bottom of the corporate food chain, many of their tasks are menial and some can be soul-crushingly repetitive.
It can be hard to learn very much about an organization when all you are expected to do is Xerox papers and make coffee. Work duties can be especially frustrating when interning at a larger organization, where salaried employees take care of most complex tasks that actually require some mental activity.
By allowing students to gain credit from these types of internships, GW is essentially detracting from the overall quality of our University’s educational experience. Instead of studying chapters from a textbook or meeting regularly with professors, many interns simply pass the day away on Facebook or sorting through mail. Since internships are so time-consuming, many students working one spend all night in Gelman Library around finals just to finish all the reading they have yet to touch.
For the bigwigs in Rice Hall, for-credit internships are a pretty sweet deal. Students pay $3,000 to the University, find their own internships, work 10 to 20 hours a week and submit an essay explaining what they’ve learned. The University provides nothing, except for the paperwork and a single meeting with an overwhelmed adviser.
I am not proposing that GW should do away with internships completely or stop granting credit for them, but the University must establish a system to ensure that internships are more intellectually stimulating. To do this, GW should foster more communication between our academic programs and the organizations to which interns provide mostly free labor.
In order to grant credit for the internship, GW should thoroughly review the internship posting and contact the applicable supervisor to see what tasks an intern will be performing. If the tasks are menial, GW should refuse to give credit for the job.
Eventually, GW should establish a database of approved internship programs that can be made available to students. This database would include postings that teach interns about company structure, assign tasks that go beyond filing papers and facilitate check-ins on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Of course, the specifics of what these educational responsibilities entail ultimately depend on the organization.
After their internship, interns’ essays should be posted on the database, available to prospective student workers. These essays will provide an invaluable service to the student body and ensure that prospective interns have all the information they need before they apply for a position.
While internships provide a unique opportunity at GW, students and administrators must be careful to not overstate their importance. Some of them can provide great networking opportunities, but most of these jobs just can’t intellectually compete with a good old-fashioned class.
Ultimately, those that provide opportunities for growth should be catalouged, promoted and rewarded with more GW interns. The rest are a waste of our time.
-The writer is a sophomore majoring in
anthropology and journalism.