Immediately after graduating from college, I worked with the Upward Bound Summer Program as a residential advisor. Shortly after the summer program ended, I began my service year with City Year Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing the achievement gap. My service year with City Year served two roles in my life: an opportunity to give back and as an externship. While I learned skills that no other job could have possibly offered me, it was a year filled with sacrifices. I worked three jobs, simply to get by as City Year is an AmeriCorps partner and corps member live off of a five-hundred dollar bi-weekly stipend. With the cost of living and basic needs, I found myself barely making it week to week. Still, I was glad I took on the challenge. I left college with very little experience. Aside from starting a new organization on campus, I was an average student. I focused on school and did my best to finish as soon as possible. I did not have the financial resources to travel and studying abroad felt far-fetched given that it would stop me from graduating early and would only add more to my student loans. Therefore, I focused on graduating as soon as possible.
I recall witnessing many of my friends take on internships throughout college. A few of them were aspiring doctors so they took internships with the local hospital and embarked on medical brigades (which were costly and impossible to afford in my eyes, but fortunately accessible to their middle-class families). A few others were aspiring lawyers, so they were able to take on internships where they gained hands-on experience in law offices and learned the basics to serving as paralegals. Others were simply interested in music and were able to secure internships with music companies that offered both exposure to the industry and a resume booster. Then there were my favorite, the aspiring political junkies. They were the ones who had the opportunity to take on an internship in DC to work for a legislator and learn the ins and outs to our complex yet intriguing political system.
As much as I would have liked to apply to one of the many internships available while in college, I simply could not afford it. Most of these internships were unpaid, and the mere idea that I would be working for free reminded me that I should either spend my time wisely looking for a job, or focus my time in school and get out early.
Six years later, I find myself in a transitional phase. While I have had the opportunity to work right out of college and struggled to get doors opened, I realize now more than ever the importance of an internship experience. Many of my equally ambitious colleagues and former classmates have had so many more opportunities available to them simply from the experiences gained through their internships. Many of them have traveled the world, and through exposure, many have acculturated themselves to different environments. Meanwhile, I am finding myself attempting to create these same opportunities for myself now. I am exploring new jobs, new fields and trying to experience the world all at once with the hope that I can fill in the missing gaps in both my professional and personal experiences.
It is crucial and necessary for more internships to offer pay. While I understand how lucrative it is to be a high-rank company that offers internships and in exchange receive free work that saves it money, I can’t help but think of those students who would be an asset to an organization and can’t be because they cannot afford to work for free. Is that fair? Here I am, feeling like I missed out on an important time of career exploration in my life; I wonder how many more feel the same way. Internships are an important part of a young adult’s entrance into the field of their choice. There must be more programs and grants in place to allow more students from low-income backgrounds to have access to these opportunities. In the same way that we discuss the need for more diversity in the workforce, we can start opening more doors to diversify the talent pipeline by offering more paid internships that will help an ambitious student find her passion early on. More paid opportunities will allow for more representation in the workforce of students of color and of students who come from lower socioeconomic levels.
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