Worthless Internships

Many, many college students have internships at some point during their studies. Pair or unpaid, students often see such experiences as necessary, both because college courses often require internship experience, and because past internships are so important when applying for a job.

But what are those internships actually like? According to a recent survey of interns conducted by Northwestern Mutual:

Results of the poll showed that 44 percent of college intern respondents found “adding the experience to their resume” was the most valuable part of their internship. However, the majority of respondents (68 percent) said that on most days they did not work on what they’d hope to do in a full-time career.

Earlier this year, the Economic Policy Institute, Northeastern University and Drexel University found that more than 50 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were jobless or unemployed, according to research based on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Northwestern valiantly tried to put a positive spin on this one.:

“It’s encouraging that students view internships as playing an important role in making themselves more attractive in the job market,” said Steven C. Mannebach, vice president – field growth and development at Northwestern Mutual. “While it’s discouraging that the poll shows a lack of real world work experience gained in many companies, Northwestern Mutual takes great pride in and places a strong emphasis and significant investment on building our industry leading internship program.”

Well that’s one way to think of it.

A more realistic look at the survey, however, might lead one to the conclusion that internships are pretty terrible. Students work at internships in order to look more attractive to potential employers. Then the work they do in those internships doesn’t have much to do with want they want in their careers. And then when they’re done—despite “students view[ing] internships as playing an important role in making themselves more attractive in the job market”—it doesn’t work; about half of them don’t get good jobs.

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