Fellowships offer students professional experiences — for a fee

by Marco Allen | 10/29/19 2:05am

The desire to have a marketable set of professional skills has driven students to pursue different types of off-term opportunities, including both paid and unpaid internships. However, increased demand for job opportunities has led to the creation of fellowships that charge students thousands of dollars for professional opportunities. 

These fellowships, which John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding senior program officer Amy Newcomb refers to as “pay-to-play entities,” include the Atlantis Fellowship for students interested in medicine, Beacon Fellowship for students interested in consulting and the Lex Fellowship for students interested in law. 

Students pay upwards of $5,000 for a three-to-four week program and around $2,500 for a 10-day experience. These three internships are subsidiaries of the Saffron Ventures, a for-profit investment firm that classifies itself as a “builder, grower, and investor in businesses & organizations that are impactful & counter-cultural.”

“The Fellowship gives students an in depth understanding of the job of the consultant, while also teaching them real business skills that will apply to any career they pursue,” Beacon Fellowship associate Nick Leaver wrote in a statement to The Dartmouth. 

Leaver wrote that the Beacon Fellowship’s projects are led by “McKinsey, Bain, or [Boston Consulting Group] alum.” Many of the online advertisements for the Beacon Fellowship boast about the program’s connection to such consulting firms and often present themselves as an alternative or supplement to traditional internships.

According to Atlantis Fellowship alumni ambassador Saman Wadpey, many students learn about these fellowships via online advertising on social media platforms. 

Wadpey, who participated in an Atlantis program in Spain and Croatia, said that “at first I was a little skeptical, because when you see something on Instagram it doesn’t always seem as if its credible.” 

However, she noted that after speaking with representatives of the program, she was impressed with the opportunities they offered. She said that Atlantis was an easy way to “get experience shadowing in multiple specialties” in a shorter amount of time than she could have on her own. 

However, the Dickey Center neither offers funding for nor encourages students to pursue opportunities such as the Atlantis, Beacon and Lex Fellowships. 

According to Newcomb, students interested in working abroad should instead look for “an independent, eight-week immersive experience.” She stressed the importance of learning independently when working abroad and truly embedding oneself in a community rather than just “passing by for a short amount of time.” She said that “pay-to-play” programs are a form of “voluntourism with a fixed itinerary.” 

Dickey Center student intern and peer advisor Victor Cabrera ’19 further said that the cost of one of these programs — $4,500 — was enough to cover living expenses in a country for the length of a term. 

“A program like this that’s asking for so much money [for] so little time often looks a little more like an itinerary,” Cabrera said.

Sarah Wen ’22, who did market research for an app developer through Beacon’s London program for a month last summer, said she chose to do a Beacon Fellowship because she “wanted something a little more relaxed … and the big firms don’t offer anything for freshmen anyways.” 

Wen also added that she gained a lot of “interview talking points and also a lot of practical skills, such as pitching to a real CEO.”

Rockefeller Center for Public Policy program officer Eric Janisch acknowledged that one reason students may be willing to pay for programs such as Beacon is that “there’s a lot of pressure on students at Dartmouth to build that resume and to have something to tell their peers.” 

However, Janisch also said that students should also be willing to do local work and care less about whether their next employer might be able to recognize the names of the previous companies that employed them.

Newcomb agreed that there was a large amount of pressure for students to partake in the “internship culture on leave terms,” but that “students should expect more from their experiences … rather than trying to talk them up.”

Newcomb said she believes that this “industry of educational opportunities for sale” was created in response to movements in colleges and high schools calling for community and service-based learning. She added that she believes that this demand and the realization that there are people who are willing to pay for these experiences led to these kinds of opportunities. 

“There is a trend shifting from longer term study abroad programs towards shorter term immersive experiences because they are more easily accessible for students,” said Dickey Center global studies program manager Casey Aldrich. 

However, Aldrich noted that these businesses can serve a need for students at institutions that lack the resources to provide study abroad opportunities, such as Wadpey, who attended a community college before partaking in the Atlantis Fellowship. 

Janisch said that students interested in work opportunities should reflect on what they want to learn before pursuing them. 

“Students who are attracted to this don’t know what they want, but the services offer an outcome that they think they want, which is experience they can put on their resumes,” Janisch said.

Representatives from Atlantis and Lex Fellowships declined to comment.