Around this time of year, many college students are hearing back from potential internship employers, inducing heightened stress due to dwindling summer opportunity prospects or jubilation because a door to the professional world has finally opened up. However, many students don’t hear back at all.
The nature of summer internships is changing. Employers are increasingly hiring from their previous pools of interns, bypassing the spring job market. The summer internship is becoming a necessity for students to get a job after graduation. Additionally, entry-level jobs in some industries have lagged behind growth in the overall job market.
Entry-level professional positions for students without previous experience are hard to come by. Here are some steps that students, professors, career services offices and college administrations at the 5Cs can take in order to make entry-level opportunities more accessible. I will also touch on inequity as students climb the professional ladder.
Professors at the 5Cs can develop course-embedded projects. For example, Pitzer College’s Racial Justice Initiative Policy Lab course description for fall 2021 says students will “develop a policy research brief” to be “posted on the RJI Policy Lab webpage,” according to a description in the college’s portal. Students in the Keck Science Department Global Climate Change Lab have made climate resilience recommendations to a municipal government in the Inland Empire, according to Keck Science professor Branwen Williams. Students can translate these experiences into accomplishments under relevant coursework on their resumes.
Career services offices at the 5Cs should curate lists of entry-level experiences for students. While some compilations do exist, none focus explicitly on entry-level opportunities. Some examples include the Sustainability and Environmental Jobs Board on Pitzer’s website, the Claremont McKenna College professor John Pitney’s extensive list of internships in Washington, D.C. and the spreadsheet of past internships from Pomona College’s Career Development Office.
All 5C students get access to Handshake and resources to learn how to use this tool. However, more specific lists of opportunities for students with little to no previous experience would be extremely helpful. These could be based on alumni resumes and could be a collaboration across 5C career services offices.
As for the students themselves, they can start by prioritizing skill development. Find internships or jobs of interest and identify the requisite skills and experience listed for those roles, then pursue volunteer positions and other more accessible opportunities that would afford those requisite skills and experience. This could be accomplished with micro-internships or short skill-based assignments, such as those listed on Parker Dewey.
Administrations at the 5Cs can additionally devote more funds to the professional development of its students. One way this can be accomplished is through partnerships with organizations. For example, CMC’s Policy Lab has worked with the American Enterprise Institute, the RAND Corporation and the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Administrations can also support professional development by ensuring every student who secures an unpaid or low-paid internship receives funding to cover living expenses. Pitzer, Scripps College and Harvey Mudd College describe reliance on donations to support internship funds. Last summer, Pomona funded 93 students, CMC funded more than 400 students and Pitzer funded 53 students. Scripps funds approximately 75 to 85 students every summer. Mudd doesn’t offer similar information on their website.
This sort of support for professional development is crucial to improve accessibility to entry-level positions. Access to unpaid internships favors wealthy students who can forgo pay in order to gain valuable experience.
Many students who secure internships may need to move to metropolitan areas with a high cost of living but don’t get paid for the work. Students who pursue these opportunities also give up income that could be earned in a job unrelated to their career aspirations.
One implication of this is that remote internships may be more equitable than in-person ones. More people can afford to do internships from home because they don’t incur cost of living increases.
Another solution is having the federal government pay for internships to make them more accessible. Existing programs such as Federal Work-Study and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid could be used to help low-income students pay for living expenses during unpaid summer internship experiences.
There are two fundamental problems at the heart of student professional development: not enough entry-level opportunities to go around and the need for summer income determines who gets to start their career. No constituent group can address these problems on the whole, but if each group pursued a solution, students would be better off.
Students can adopt a skills-based approach, professors can develop course-embedded projects, administrations can form partnerships and allocate more funds, career services offices can curate lists of accessible opportunities, employers can continue to offer remote internships and the government can repurpose existing programs to fund summer internships.
Everyone has a role to play in making entry-level professional experience more accessible.
Kyle Greenspan PZ ’23 is from Portland, Oregon. He is pursuing a career at the intersection of environmental sustainability and global development.