Internships, illness, and the long road to employment

As an underclassman you have a very uneducated view of what goes in to being a college senior. “Sure, you naively assume, I mean the capstone course is probably difficult, as are the remainder of the degree requirements, but otherwise it’s just another year, right?”

Wrong; hypothetical example of an underclassman reading this paper, very wrong indeed.

You see, people tend to forget about the dreaded internship application process, which involves applying for every position ever remotely related to your degree in the hopes that you can either fool someone, or earn their mercy long enough to come out with some relevant work experience. That’s not to mention the fact that a large bulk of internships are unpaid, presumably to cater to the mythical independently wealthy college student who is really only here to enrich their own intellect rather than trying to avoid starving as an unemployed bum.

I got three quarters of the way into applying for an environmental internship in Seward, only to see the tiny print stating that there would be no pay, no stipend, and only housing covered for the three month period. As someone who makes the majority of his money in the summer, working for free in a town a hundred miles away doesn’t sound appealing, especially when housing is covered while the funds necessary to purchase food are conveniently forgotten. As much as it would be fun to handle wildlife and save the planet for a summer, you can be damn sure it isn’t feasible for me to do it for free.

Admittedly, a great deal of my frustration stems from the fact that I was supposed to write this column about my ice climbing excursion at Matanuska glacier this weekend. Instead I’ve been on bended knee praying to the porcelain god as a result of what I can only assume is my utter stupidity in failing to get my flu shot this year. So as a mid-column PSA, please vaccinate yourself, your children, your pets, and even that loud guy who smokes cigarettes right outside of your apartment building every night. Believe me, it’s more than worth it if it helps you avoid the full body aches and a Technicolor yawn or two.

Back to the internship search, hopefully your advisors have been telling you all to get letters of recommendation from your professors. Well, let’s back up. Hopefully most of you have been visiting your advisors, or at least know who they are. Because if you wait until the last minute to get a recommendation letter like everyone else you know, then even the professors who like you will struggle to get you a letter on any sort of schedule.

Whether this was publicized and I missed it, assumed to be common knowledge, or just a massive oversight, the reality is that every internship application I’ve seen so far demands two letters of recommendation to even apply. That’s a significant barrier to entry for a student who’s forgotten about the networking aspect of college and thought that basic academic success would signal competency.

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Finally, even if you obtain your letters of recommendation that give off the vague impression that your professors remember who you are, get an internship that pays real American currency, and are able to complete said internship alongside your final courses; don’t expect to be hired on full time afterwards. While this may be the case some of the time, far too many friends of mine have completed internships only to return back to the full time job hunt with a slightly spiffier resume.

“Isn’t there an alternative to this process?” you may ask with wavering desperation in your voice.

I’m afraid not, wearied hypothetical reader; now less secure in their future for having read this column. Whether or not this is the most fair or efficient system is a question for someone far smarter than I, the best that I can do is to educate you to the process. Graduating college is hard; learning to use your college experience effectively is harder still.

My point, if such a thing has managed to come across despite the bubbling concoction of cold medicine I’ve been frantically ingesting, is that quite a bit more goes into graduating school than just taking classes and donning a cap and gown. Sure, you can come out with a 4.0 and be the pride and joy of your family; but if you don’t also have professors who can vouch for you, relevant work experience in your field, and a particularly lucky rabbit’s foot then you might as well just apply directly to Starbucks and call it a day. That’s not a reason to fret or call it quits before you’re done, but it’s a damn good reason to get your ducks in a row long before you register for your final couple of semesters.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to applying for internships while I down some emergen-c and moan for a couple hours.