Getting a job is largely dependent on the quality of one seemingly simple document: the résumé. Yet for many college students, résumé building comes at a price. Internships, aside from being personally rewarding, are advantageous in accruing a body of work experience; however, students who struggle to afford the steep costs of transportation and housing are limited in the opportunities they can pursue.
About 80 percent of Oberlin students receive financial aid to pay for tuition. Despite the roughly $30,000 in aid students receive each year on average to attend Oberlin, the journey to funding internships frequently results in a financial dead end. Every student who attends Oberlin undoubtedly deserves the same chance to pursue Winter Term opportunities regardless of financial position. This accessibility requires efforts on the part of not just students but also the faculty and administration.
Though Oberlin does provide means to find potential hosts such as OBIEWeb and Switchboard, their results are not the same for all. Sophomore Emma Baxter still revels in her experience staying with two Oberlin alumni while working at the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. “I still stay in touch. … I felt like I formed a strong relationship with them,” Baxter said. “I miss them.”
In other instances, these online platforms proved disappointing. “I went through OBIEWeb to find housing, Switchboard and the classifieds, which were all completely useless,” said College sophomore Olivia DeToma, noting that none of her correspondents accepted her housing requests and hardly any of them even responded to her emails. “My housing-finding process was asking around to see if [friends and such] would host me, which puts people in a weird spot,” she said. “[I had to ask myself], am I close enough to this person to ask this big favor? How would I ever repay them? Money?”
College sophomore and Environmental Studies and Economics major Julia Murphy is facing a similar situation. Because she had not anticipated her acceptance to a green housing project internship in L.A., Murphy now faces the problem of finding affordable housing at the last minute without being a burden.
Due to logistical issues and inability to finance travel and housing, Murphy fears that she is spoiling potential future opportunities. “By turning down an internship, you’re probably setting yourself up to not be able to do that internship in the future,” Murphy said. She added that she wishes the opportunity had presented itself this summer so that she could have had more time to plan out how to finance her adventure and perhaps even get a job.
College sophomore and New York City native Linda Diaz felt passionate about making transportation feasible for students, even if they are interning while living at home. “I didn’t apply to a lot of New York City internships because they did not offer a metro card to get to work, and I would be spending a lot of money coming back and forth,” Diaz said. Because students cannot receive pay for projects they complete during Winter Term, students like Diaz and Murphy often have to find additional means to support their journey. With internship application responses coming in anywhere from a week to a month after students’ initial requests, students have a hard time planning so far in advance.
Unfortunately, many students, including Murphy and DeToma, strongly considered turning down these internships for the sole reason of not having financial backing, which, upsettingly, could mean permanently forfeiting internships at esteemed establishments. Not all companies are aware of the difficulties students routinely face trying to pay their way through internships; declining a competitive internship could be mistaken as disinterest, flakiness or unreliability, even if the student responds with an explanation of their situation.
Even if the student is ultimately able to reclaim the internship in the future, doing so comes at the expense of time, and as a college student at the edge between the bubble that is Oberlin and the daunting black hole that is the real world, time, and the time to gain early experience, means everything. Given more options and accessibility for internship funding, students would not have to scurry to find last-minute jobs who knows where or scavenge for little-known grants in order to snag exciting work opportunities.
While Oberlin does offer grants for students interested in interning off-campus, both Murphy and DeToma expressed dismay with the inaccessibility and lack of advertising for such financial aid. “The Career Center and the employers were incredibly late with getting back to us about [financing] rejections or offers and did not push the deadline for submitting our forms,” said DeToma. “There are few grants available, but they were only emailed about once, and only to those who applied for internships. [Some students] probably didn’t even bother to apply because they didn’t know there were opportunities for funding.”
The ironic traffic jam of financing internships creates a mess that affects everyone at Oberlin. It’s unfortunate that at an institution of higher education that attempts to provide all of the necessary tools to enter the workforce, students who cannot readily afford the inherent costs in interning spend much more time trying to figure out how to afford the opportunities sitting in front of them while others are free to take the fast lane. The question I ask myself is: Why can’t everyone take the fast lane, and what resources are necessary to allow all students to access the same opportunities?
There has certainly been talk of Winter Term funds that existed in the past, but it irks me that these efforts have not gained institutional recognition. Ultimately, while the administration does clearly provide some opportunities to receive funding, it needs to devise a more effective way to communicate what opportunities are available for financing internships, and it must work with students to create more of them.