NU students seek balance between class and internships

Sammy Caiola

Weinberg junior Andrew Kang woke up at 7 a.m. two days a week last quarter to hop on the El and go to his consulting internship. After a morning of work, he would hurry back to Northwestern to study before taking a weekly quiz for one of his four classes.

Kang is one of many students who balance an internship and coursework in an effort to enhance education with experiential learning. Unfortunately for him, juggling the internship and a full course load became unmanageable, and he had to resign three quarters of the way through.

“Looking back on it, I wish I’d given myself more breathing room there,” Kang said. “I felt rushed, my mind would be in a few places and it was more added stress. At all times I felt like I was behind. You can only take that for so long before you have to start making some choices.”

Because Kang was participating in a paid internship independent of any University program, he was unable to receive academic credit for the work, and still needed to take a full course load.

He said he felt he was not getting the full experience of the internship because he was busy with school, but he was not doing well academically because of internship demands.

“I was trying to do everything at one time,” he said, “and in reality I feel like I got half of everything.”

With the deadline for students to drop classes approaching on May 6 and summer internship decisions being made, many students weigh the pros and cons of getting work experience both during the school year and in the summer.

NU offers several internship opportunities that allow students to gain academic credit for unpaid co-curricular work. The Chicago Field Studies program, for example, is open to all majors and offers one-fourth of a credit to four credits per quarter depending on how many hours the student works, said Betsy Gill, assistant director for internship services at University Career Services. This allows students to take fewer courses and better balance internships and class schedules.

Several NU administrators have noted that experiential learning is something that students are interested in, but may struggle to find time for in their schedules.

“Students have to decide how to balance curricular and co-curricular activities, and there’s no automatic way for me to say what’s the right balance for any individual student,” said associate provost Ron Braeutigam. “Part of the situation is that there’s so many opportunities you really have to prioritize and plan.”

In February, University President Morton Schapiro discussed his strategic plan in a meeting with the Northwestern Political Union, saying the plan may include a program called “3 and e” in which students would take three classes per quarter and fill the fourth space with an internship or volunteering program.

Gill said she is excited about the program and thinks it’s important that students are exposed to forms of learning outside the classroom that relate to their careers.

“(Schapiro) is trying to establish a balance in how students learn,” Gill said. “You’re investing a lot of money in Northwestern, and what is return in that investment? For a lot of people it’s a career.”

Currently, students in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications cannot receive academic credit for internships because Medill is governed by a crediting body that only allows one internship credit. That requirement is filled by the Journalism Residency, said James O’Brien, director of career services for Medill.

Students taking an internship other than JR enroll in a class that shows up on their transcript, but the grade does not factor into their GPA or their credits, O’Brien said. He said the school discourages students from pursuing internships during the year and instead suggests they focus on academics and get work experience over the summer.

“It really isn’t something that’s factored in or given equal weight to the academic work,” O’Brien said. “We just want to make sure students aren’t overextending themselves with an internship during the year.”

Dan Moran, a Medill sophomore with an internship at Comcast SportsNet, is taking four classes and said that his internship can be tough to balance.

“I wish that I did get credit; it would make things easier,” Moran said. “But I take it as a challenge. I know I’m doing this because I want to.”

The School of Communication offers an internship seminar in which students earn up to four credits. The class meets once a week and focuses on how to maximize an internship experience, said Kate Neal, director of EPICS (External Programs, Internships, and Career Services).

Treesa Leung, a Communication sophomore, interns at a communications firm and receives one credit for it. She said the work for her other three classes has been manageable.

“It’s been pretty great,” Leung said. “At first I thought it’d be quite busy, but the internship class is really relaxing.”

Communication sophomore Louis Schermerhorn was unable to enroll in this program due to timing issues, but is still interning four days a week for Chicago Dramatists, a theater company that supports up-and-coming playwrights.

The only downside, he said, is the financial burden. Though he planned to intern this summer, he may have to get a paid position instead. But the hands-on experience during school is worth it, he said.

“I feel like college is an opportunity for real-world experiences, a place where you can have a safe harbor and redefine your limits,” Schermerhorn said. “If you want to be successful in networking and figuring out how certain theaters work, you have to go outside class. I can’t say I’ll learn everything about the company in this quarter, but I’ve got to start somewhere.”

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