Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writing for College Credit? Do Your Homework First.

This one's for the college students.

Cruising the blogs yesterday, I found a post on Words on the Page detailing a sham job advertisement looking for students (it's always a bad sign when they're looking for students, isn't it?). The job post was from a start-up "online fashion community" and was looking for bloggers, forum moderators, article writers, e-blast writers, and such to "Develop strategies to motivate and engage our members to become an integral part of our online community"; "Support the expansion of our community with new features and member interaction"; "Write and moderate persuasive, effective and appropriate content for blogs with compelling topics and discussions" and perform other important-sounding tasks. The job wanted students who could commit to a six-month, UNPAID internship. The payoff? College credit.

You see a lot of these job ads for college credit lately. Often they're offering credit instead of payment. And so many students are willing to take these deals because the resume booster is more important to them than the money. But what many students don't realize (I didn't, back when I was a student) is that an employer can't just declare willy-nilly that it can grant you college credit instead of pay. That's up to your school. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking into internships that offer credit.

Your college may not accept that experience as credit. Some colleges don't offer academic credit for internships at all. Others offer specific internship programs that pair students with approved employers. Generally, you don't get college credit for working with an employer outside that network. In other schools, the policy varies by department. Still others will award you credit, but they'll charge you for it. Overall, the knowledge you gain at the internship has to be of academic value to the school, and may need to be directly relevant to a certain course to justify credit. Be sure to talk to your department head before signing on to any internship program that claims to "offer" college credit. It can't, unless your college goes along with it.

Federal Law has a few things to say about the credit situation. According to Federal law, an intern can't do the same work as a regular employee, and the employer isn't allowed to get an immediate advantage from the work of the student. In other words, it's an arrangement that's supposed to have academic value for the student, not monetary value for the employer. Go to Lori's blog and read that job offer again. Does it sound like this one's breaking any Federal rules? Granted, a lot of legitimate credit internships do break those rules, but interns usually don't know to report them--and wouldn't if they did. This article from Slate has more info on Federal laws regarding college credit.

Be wary of start-ups offering credit. If I were looking for an internship now, I would not look for one with a start-up advertising on Craigslist. First of all, these people are not looking to offer an academically valuable experience to students. They are looking for full-time employees who will work for free. Your work will indeed be monetarily valuable to that company. If you want to be involved with the start-up experience, start your own business this summer instead of carrying someone else's--you won't get college credit for that either, but you might make some money. Second, that start-up looking for a six-month commitment may not even be around in six months. Third, nobody has heard of these companies--and it's doubtful they'll make it big later, especially if they don't even care enough to invest in real employees. They're not likely to give your resume much of a boost. If you want to work in online media, get an internship with an established site instead.

Don't fall for the "college credit" scam being peddled in so many online job offers. If you want an unpaid internship, go with a company that can actually offer you a prestigious-looking line on your resume--and make sure your university will grant you credit for it. If you don't, you may find yourself getting nothing at the end of your internship--no pay, no resume booster, and no credit.


Unknown said...

Amen! Thanks for the link hug, and for spreading the word. This particular listing really unhinged me - I was livid at the suggestion that this company would disguise grunt work as a college credit opportunity. Complete hogwash.

Jennifer Williamson said...

You're welcome! I feel bad for students who jump at these chances only to realize later they wasted your time. The bottom line is this: if you're going to work for free, be darn sure you're getting something else valuable out of the experience.

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