Smith: Don't Discredit Internships

by Andres Smith | 5/17/15 7:26pm

As this term comes to a close, many of my classmates and I are looking forward to our sophomore summer. Those of us who will be off campus in the fall, however, must have a little more foresight. Several employers have begun hiring interns for the fall, and a lot of us are already scrambling to secure one of these coveted positions. The market for internships is competitive, and as Dartmouth students we have certain advantages over students from other schools.

One of the biggest of these is the flexibility that comes with the D-Plan — because we can take an off-term during our sophomore or junior year, we can have the option of accepting internships at times other than the summer, when students with more traditional academic calendars often work. With fewer people competing for jobs in the fall, winter or spring, we have a leg up. Yet, the College’s refusal to offer academic credit for internships put students at a large disadvantage.

Despite the ethical controversy surrounding unpaid internships, many companies, particularly small ones, still do not pay their interns. Rather, they have worked out a different system — interns can work without monetary compensation and instead receive college credit. Many schools participate in arrangements like this, such as Boston College and Emory University, but unfortunately, Dartmouth is not one of them. To ensure they are not breaking labor laws for unpaid work, several companies’ internship positions are dependent on a student receiving academic credit — and since we cannot, Dartmouth students are excluded from applying. The College should revise its policy on awarding academic credit so students can have the best possible opportunity to gain invaluable work experience and make connections that will prepare us for our eminent — and terrifying — entry into the job market. Moreover, allowing students to receive academic credit for certain internships fits well with College President Phil Hanlon’s emphasis on experiential learning. After all, what’s more “experiential” than actual, intensive on-the-job experience?

While they are some caveats that can be leveraged to circumvent this rule, such as receiving the credit from another institution or asking if your employer would accept a letter from a professor instead, these are less effective and can cost hundreds of dollars. These difficulties, though, could be avoided if students could receive academic credits from the College. Countless more opportunities that are currently unattainable for Dartmouth students would open up. I’m not proposing that the school just offer credit for any and every internship that a student is able to secure — internships can sometimes be pretty easygoing, and a Dartmouth credit should be something that is earned. Students should be given the opportunity, however, if we are able to secure a for-credit internship, to then appeal to the relevant department head or the Registrar to receive credit.

Receiving credit could be dependent on a presentation after the completion of the internship that demonstrates the value of the experience and proves that the position served as an important part of the student’s learning experience. If, after an in-depth presentation on the internship’s relevance to a student’s area of study and its ability to enhance the classroom education, the department head sees fit, he or she should then be able to grant the student the opportunity to earn credit through the internship.

Of course, we are at Dartmouth for the sake of expanding our horizons and opening up new worlds of knowledge. A liberal arts education alone sometimes is not quite enough to help us turn that knowledge into a paycheck. The College does a lot to help prepare us for life after graduation, but it is only hindering students by not offering credit for internships. After graduation, we are going to be competing with students from innumerable of schools around the world for the same jobs. Many of those schools, however, offer an opportunity for their students to prepare themselves that the College does not. If President Hanlon cares about experiential learning as much as he purports to do, then Dartmouth needs to make credit available for internships.