GW’s unpaid internship fund sets unrealistic deadlines

With the start of the school year right around the corner, the pressure to find a fall internship is kicking into high gear. Writing cover letters and perfecting resumes while completing summer courses, jobs and internships is an all-too familiar but necessary stress for many students.

One major factor students consider when applying to internships throughout the year is whether or not it’s a paid opportunity. For students with unpaid internships, GW currently offers the Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund — which provides a stipend of up to $3,000 to help alleviate financial burdens caused by an unsalaried post. In the past year, 125 students have received KACIF grants. But the abrupt application timeline, which closes this week, prevents many students from having the opportunity to apply because they need to secure an internship beforehand. This is problematic given that many students are only notified about internships in August.

The University should adjust their application deadlines to match internship acceptance deadlines so that more students can have the opportunity to apply for the grant. As it currently stands, KACIF stops accepting applications weeks before many students are notified of their acceptance to internships.

KACIF, established by the GW Career Services Council in 2013, aims to “pursue high-quality, necessarily unpaid internships that foster their career exploration and enhance their academic program, while reducing the financial challenges associated with unpaid internships.” But the restrictive deadlines prohibits so many GW students from accessing this useful and generous grant.

KACIF data from 2013 to 2016 shows that the program awarded almost half a million dollars to 267 students out of the 862 students who applied over this three year period. The money, which is all donated by alumni and parents, has undoubtedly helped numerous students alleviate financial burdens caused by unpaid internships.

GW Career Services is accepting applications for this fall only until July 15. As a student currently applying for internships for the upcoming semester, many of the places I’ve applied to do not send out final decisions until mid-August. The application timelines for internships and the KACIF grant are ineffectively designed for both the fall and spring semester.

Extending deadlines for the KACIF application would allow more students to have the opportunity to take unpaid internships that they otherwise may not have been able to. This valuable program has the potential to help a larger number of students, but the current system leaves many applicants at a disadvantage.

Both extending the deadline until after the semester starts and establishing a rolling deadline would make it possible for more students to utilize this useful resource that the University provides. New York University offers a similar grant that aims to help students financially while they participate in an unpaid internship. Unlike GW, NYU’s application deadlines offer students more time to secure an internship. The KACIF fall 2017 grant deadline is July 15, while NYU’s grant application is due in late September. Students everywhere compete for these internships and it isn’t always easy to secure one well before the start of the semester. Schools like NYU take that into consideration, making the grant more accessible to a larger number of students.

Members of the student body have also voiced frustration with the illogical application process and it has been a topic of discussion in the Student Association. Former SA President Erika Feinman said last year that many SA representatives wanted to remodel the application process to allow for a rolling deadline. But no changes have been made since the Career Services Council announced in fall 2016 that it would extend deadlines for grant applications by one month from June to July, hoping to grow the program and allow more students to apply. Though the extended application deadline to July is better than closing the grant application for fall internships in June, it is clearly not enough.

One of the reasons why students come to GW is for the plentiful internship opportunities in the nation’s capital. In 2016, the Princeton Review recognized GW as one of the best schools in the country for internships and approximately two-thirds of the student body has completed an internship by the time they graduate. But this process could be made easier for many who can’t afford to take an unpaid internship.

Interning is a significant part of many students’ experience. And there is significant pressure to find an internship while staying on top of school work and extracurricular activities. For a university that prides itself on being in the heart of the capital with unparalleled internship opportunities, GW should strive to help all students experience that.

Sky Singer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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