Regrettable as it may be, both college students and businesses basically understand the internship to be an essential part of today’s career path. People now have to take internships because they’re a way to enter into a particular industry and because they’re often the only entry-level jobs available.

But for college students there are two kinds of internships: there are internships where you get paid (which are great) and there are internships for which you do not get paid (which are not great, but often understandable). There is also, however, now apparently a third type of internship, which is essentially a scam.

According to an article by Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post:

Increasingly, many… [students are] paying thousands of dollars to a placement company for a guaranteed spot. For their money — often funded with taxpayer-subsidized loans — students get an internship, housing, night classes, tours of Washington and college credit. But most say they sign up for the work experience.

The Washington Center is the city’s largest program, and for the past three years it has placed about 1,500 interns annually, up from about 1,300 in 2007. It charges nearly $9,000 for a summer, including housing.

The Washington Center‘s placement services aren’t really that rigorous. Every academic semester the Washington Center sends out a bundle of application packages to various organizations consisting of a resume (those fill-in-the-box kind, not the real ones students create themselves), a general writing sample, and a list of check boxes of a student’s preferences.

This sort of thing tells someone very little about the student and actually makes the student less attractive than he would be if he applied the regular way. The Washington Center application process essentially cuts students off from all but DC’s least selective internships. (I know this, I used to get applications from the Washington Center at my last job. I never hired anyone.) As Hamilton Nolan at Gawker put it:

It’s one thing to buy an internship at Vogue or HuffPo for thousands of dollars in some charity auction. That one thing is “stupid.” But it’s not a scam, because hey, it’s for charity, and presumably anyone who’d waste money like that has enough cash to burn.

This is something much more troublesome.

Granted, the students involved with the Washington Center do get internships, but it’s a little unclear why they need to pay $9,000 to do so. The thing about internships in DC is that they aren’t like real jobs; students don’t need help securing them, it’s dramatically more effective if they just apply like everyone else. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer