Many students, prior to attending university, have a preconceived notion of the college experience. It varies depending on the student, but there is one thing that many successful RIT students can expect: an internship.

Expanding Your Resume

University is designed to advance a student’s education and prepare them for what comes after. Internships are an important step in that preparation. They are often a necessary component to prove students are ready for a career. Being such an integral step on the path to success, it stands to reason that these opportunities should be commonly available. However, this is often not the case. Data derived from the Endicott College Career Center Graduate Report for the class of 2015 shows a consistent, positive career outcome from internships. Yet these opportunities can be difficult to find.

Many internships that are available to college students are not paid. Often, they can be more beneficial: providing stronger experiences that will pay off in the future when searching for a job. However, it is not so cut and dry. University can be a financial strain unless students are from high-income families. Most require financial support and many students help pay for their education themselves. While paid internships would be the ideal solution, these are few in number and highly competitive. An Atlantic article by Stephen Lurie explains some of the issues with unpaid internships:

"Although some unpaid internships provide valuable training, all of them face the same systematic issues. By withholding all compensation, unpaid internships both discriminate against low-income students who might benefit from the experience and skirt the basic principle of a minimum wage," Lurie wrote.

Without the advantages that a higher-income background can provide, some students simply cannot afford the expenses of an unpaid internship: the high cost of living, often in big cities is frequently not covered by employers. Low-income students are discriminated against, even before they enter the job market. Without this career advancement, their condition remains stagnant in perpetuity. Their economic circumstance is a constant struggle for equal opportunity.

RIT provides additional financial aid in finding and securing internships, but also adds stress if you're rejected. Some majors require several co-ops to be completed before a student can graduate. The institute provides aid to find these co-ops through Handshake, a site much like LinkedIn where students can search for job opportunities. Yet internships do not encompass the entirety of the college experience. There are other opportunities provided by colleges that can be quite attractive to incoming students.

International Study

The concept of receiving course credits while getting first hand experience in a foreign country is very enticing for students. However, the finances that come with this opportunity are rarely covered. The total cost includes normal tuition rates, and a program fee to cover living, travel and out of pocket expenses.

The requirements for these programs can also include a slew of additional burdens the student must bear. Projects and reports are required during and after the trip. In certain intensive majors such as engineering, additional courses must also be taken to keep up with the work load. While financial aid such as grants, loans and merit aid can be awarded alongside scholarships to help with the costs, they will only cover a fraction of these additional expenses, and are difficult to get.

“Study abroad program costs vary dramatically by the program due to length, number of courses, location, etc.,” according to a webpage for RIT's study abroad program.

This variation was confirmed by many students. Much to their frustration, they often found that the study abroad program was far more complicated than they were led to believe. Emily Parla, a first year Mechanical Engineering Technology major and a lower-middle class student from Boston who was initially interested in these programs had this to say:

“The Italy study abroad costs $7,000. While there are scholarship opportunities for these programs, they are long and arduous applications, and are extremely selective. The opportunities are very exciting, and then you figure out you cannot afford them. It is very sad,” Parla said.

Another student, Iqraa Priyata, a first year Biotechnology and Molecular Bioscience major, is traveling to the Galapagos Islands.

“Being a biotech student and having had studied Darwin and evolution most of my academic career, being able to go where it all started is like a dream come true for me,” Priyata said. “RIT has a travel grant that they offer a handful of students. In addition to your primary application, if you want to be considered for the scholarship, you submit an essay. I got a scholarship of $500 for this program. The whole process of applying is pretty easy if you can afford to bear the costs. But if you need to get a visa, you have to get it yourself, which can be pretty stressful in my opinion.”

There is a common theme of financial difficulties and stress that comes with study abroad. This strain has led many students to refrain from these beneficial experiences.

Sadly, these opportunities, both in internships and study abroad, often do not come down to the skill of the student, but rather the depth of their family’s pockets.

Is There A Solution?

There are things that can be done by employers and colleges to help students, like paying for rent and transportation for student interns or factoring in tuition to pay for a single study abroad opportunity. The small things can often have a big impact. Students do have some avenues to make these studies more affordable. Short-term programs during intersession and the summer may be offered at discounted tuition rates, and various programs such as MCAS (Multicultural Center for Academic Success) and the Honors program can lead to sustainable opportunities.

The cost of living also varies dramatically depending on location, so a simple shift in location improves the affordability of studying abroad. Even then, it is often unfeasible for many disadvantaged students to find affordable internship and study abroad solutions. Until greater changes can be implemented, utilizing all resources at your disposal and putting every academic effort forward can help offset this discrimination.