Affording NU: Internships should not require previous internship experience to apply

Allie Goulding, Development & Recruitment Editor

In this series, a writer explores the everyday struggles of being a low-income student at Northwestern.

It’s November, which means deadlines for journalism summer internships are already here.

As a Northwestern student, the pressure to have a summer internship — especially right before senior year — is extremely high. This is my last summer before I join the actual workforce, so naturally, I’ve spent the past several weeks applying for more than 25 internships.

On almost every application I filled out, there was one requirement that stuck out to me: “Previous internship experience is required.”

These internships are specifically meant for rising juniors, seniors and graduates, meaning these news organizations expect you to have completed an internship during your sophomore or junior year. In addition, these applications specifically say that college publication experience does not count. Essentially: You need internship experience to even get internship experience.

The only internships I have applied for that do not require previous experience are unpaid internships. And for many low-income students, these are not an option when you’re required to work the entire summer to support yourself and afford the upcoming school year.

I understand that the internships I’ve applied for are some of the top publications and news organizations — such as the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post — in the country, so they want the best of the best. I expect nothing less from them. But at the same time, I do expect these companies to take more into consideration than a person’s resume.

Just because a student doesn’t have previous internship experience does not make them any less qualified for an internship position. Some of the most talented student journalists I know have never had an internship, in journalism or elsewhere.

To say that college publication experience doesn’t count is a slap in the face to any student journalist on this campus. Those that work at The Daily, North By Northwestern, Northwestern News Network and many other news organizations at NU produce extremely high quality pieces that have won numerous awards — including Pacemakers, Hearst Journalism Awards and Society of Professional Journalists awards. These awards, at the college level, mirror some of the prestigious journalism awards at a national level.

The work we do as student journalists should not be written off when applying for summer internships. Especially for low-income students, who might only have this work to include on their resumes.

Low-income students are consistently told to “suck it up” and do the requisite “free labor” everyone else did at our age. Unpaid internships are not accessible to low-income students. If anything, they’re a burden.

I was only able to have my unpaid internship at a news station in San Antonio this past summer because I received a SIGP award of $3,000 and my dad bought me my first car (a 1999 Mazda Protege). Even then, I struggled. The SIGP award was not enough to cover car insurance, gas, my phone bill, food and living expenses. I had to pinch pennies. I had to tap into my savings. I’m used to this, of course, but making $3,000 last the entire summer when I had to drive 25 miles to my internship was extremely difficult.

I probably should’ve gotten a part-time job on top of my internship, but finding a job for only three months is a completely different challenge that I didn’t want to take on. I knew that if I wanted to get the most out of my internship, I would have to be there at least three days out of the week and work the other four days. This would’ve made it easier for me financially, but harder for me overall given the commitments for both. The answer is not, “Get a job and work an unpaid internship.” Sometimes doing both isn’t feasible.

Don’t get me wrong — I am extremely thankful for my SIGP award. I would not have been able to intern if I hadn’t received it. While there are some negatives to unpaid internships, I want to recognize my valuable experience at the station. I met some incredible reporters that changed the way I think about the media. I reported on topics that I had never even thought about. I learned a lot, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

But the fact remains: Unpaid internships are not accessible to everyone, especially low-income students. To have other internship opportunities — including the ones that are paid — stand behind the barrier of “internship experience required” is unbelievable.

This requirement creates an endless cycle of “experience required for experience,” and it’s hard to break out of that cycle unless you have connections, money, time or a combination of the three.

If these news organizations want to see the best of the best in their newsroom, I encourage them to look at all applicants — not just those who could afford to have an unpaid internship or were lucky enough to have a paid internship. They might just find some incredible journalists.

Allie Goulding is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.