Let’s cut the cost of unpaid internships

Yliana Roland , Columnist

I took an unpaid internship at a culture brand based in Austin last summer. It was a film and journalism student’s dream. I was editing videos and writing articles about topics I loved. Yet, as the internship extended into the school year and I returned to work, classes and extracurriculars, an unpaid role on top of my other commitments became too much to bear. 

If I’d had the resources to stay, I would’ve stayed longer. 

Texas Career Engagement has introduced a summer internship fund to “help reduce the financial barriers to internship participation.” The fund awards students based on the commitment level of the internship per week and the student’s level of financial need. TCE offers a range of $1,200-$2,000 grants to students taking unpaid internships as well as partial housing and transportation awards for paid opportunities. 

While this is a great initiative for the summer, it would be even more beneficial if Texas Career Engagement made the funds available year-round. 

Laine Blazevich, Texas Career Engagement’s assistant director for internships and career experiences, said that while there are different college or department specific internship scholarships available, this fund is the first available to all students, regardless of major. 

Since there are no college-specific prerequisites, all applicants need is at least a 9-week internship opportunity and financial need. Through TCE’s fund, UT students can further their career prospects while reducing their financial burden. 

“Having the opportunity to take on unpaid internships and gain skills, network with industry professionals and develop professionally is an opportunity that this fund is giving to students who otherwise might not have been able to accept an unpaid internship,” said Blazevitch.

Financial aid package concerns are making it difficult to offer the fund during the fall and spring semesters. 

“We need to do more data collection and research to determine how we can offer opportunities and scholarships in the fall and spring without affecting (students’) financial aid,” said Blazevitch. 

Jackie Cheng, a sociology and international relations and global studies sophomore, is a member of Students for Financial Relief’s Steering Committee. A major goal of the organization is to “advocate for less financial burden” on UT students. 

Cheng says that unpaid internships disadvantage students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who can’t afford to take them on. 

“Unpaid internships a lot of the time preach (they’ll give students) valuable experience, which obviously will look good on a resume,” said Cheng. “So, students who have the means to take those opportunities, they’re going to (employ) them over students who need to work, who need to have paid positions.” 

Cheng says that she thinks that the fund should be reinstated for fall and spring semesters so that all students have access to the same amount of opportunities, regardless of their financial status. 

“We all work hard at the end of the day,” Cheng said. “It shouldn’t have to come down to ‘this student can afford that versus the others.’”

For many students, the promise of valuable experience that unpaid opportunities advertise doesn’t pay the bills. Unfortunately, these unpaid internships often open necessary doors to further one’s career prospects, which will definitely pay the bills in the future. 

Texas Career Engagement must keep investigating ways to offer the fund for UT students in the fall and spring so that students who can’t afford to take on unpaid internships still have a way to add to their resumes. UT has the power to give all their students a fair shot. They need to use it. 

Roland is a journalism and radio-television-film sophomore from Houston, Texas.