Despite his impressive resume and enthusiastic personality, there was one thing that set University of Colorado alumnus Rob Gregg apart from the other candidates: money.
In the summer of 2008, Gregg paid $5,000 to the University of Dreams program for an internship with a prestigious marketing company in London.
“In total I spent about $10,000 for my unpaid summer internship,” Gregg said. “Half went to the University of Dreams and half for spending money.”
With destinations like London, Los Angeles and Sydney, and price tags ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, summer internships can sometimes look more like luxury vacations, raising questions of whether there’s fair access for students who can’t afford to pay to work.
Included in the cost of University of Dreams packages are housing and transportation expenses, meals, weekend excursions and occasional workshops. The program also guarantees internship placement for everyone who signs up, though the company or position may not necessarily be your top choice.
Other companies are emerging with similar internship options including auction sites and “internship finding sites.”
Gregg was one of the lucky ones who beat out a handful of competitors to get his top pick designing sales materials for The Beanstalk Group and working with brands like Jack Daniels, Paris Hilton and Harley Davidson, among others.
“The experience was definitely worth the money,” Gregg said. “My job was great, and with the weekend trips and gatherings with other interns it was really more like an extended vacation than a job.”
Thanks to savings from Gregg’s previous job and some help from parents, he was able to nail down his last internship before graduating from CU in May 2009. He now works for a talent agency in LA, a job he landed through contacts from his internship, even though the fields are totally different.
But not all students have the means to pay for their dream job.
CU senior Erica Holiday said she’s having trouble finding a summer job to maintain her living expenses, so paying for an internship is not an option.
“I’m paying for my own bachelor’s degree and supporting myself while I’m in school, so I have very little spare time between jobs and class,” Holiday said. “Balancing school and work is hard enough. I don’t see how I would have time for an internship or the money to pay for one.”
Costly internships bring an unfair disadvantage to those who are not financially capable of paying the price, said Lisa Lovett, internship program coordinator for CU Career Services.
“So students who have money are able to purchase (the internships), but what about everyone else?” Lovett said. “It’s not really fair to them.”
Lovett said the internship market is plentiful, but the competition among students follows mostly known companies with reputable positions, while jobs within smaller organizations are often left untouched.
“Students think that positions with bigger companies will look better on a resume or that they’ll learn more from a large company versus a smaller one,” Lovett said. “But this is not always the case. It really depends on what kind of work the students wants to do in the long run.”
Still, some students said it’s worth every penny to pay for the perfect position and the prestige of putting a particular company’s name on their resume.
CU junior Stephanie Cusack said that in this cut-throat economy, job-seekers have to use every advantage they’ve got, including cash.
“In today’s society you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and paying for a job might be what you’ve got to do,” Cusack said.