October 07, 2021
Overcoming Internship Barriers for First-Gen Students
A perennial question from professors, mentors, and peers floods college campuses at the end of every academic year; “So, what are you doing this summer?” This can be a daunting question for many, but one that potentially touches on additional challenges for first-generation college students.
The median family income among continuing-generation college students is $99,635, more than double that of first-generation college students ($37,565). Disparities like these can create inequities as first-generation college students begin to search for internships, and ultimately, full-time roles.
Our research on recruiting first-generation college students identified three main barriers students face and potential employer solutions to build more equitable internships.
Lack of “Professional-Sounding Experience”
First-generation college students may face financial instability during the academic year. This can require time spent working at off-campus jobs or taking care of other commitments, leaving less time for career development.
“I don’t have a lot of professional-sounding experience,” one first-generation college student said in an interview with Veris Insights. “The only real work experience I have is working at Target or Wegmans.”
You can alleviate stress by auditing internship postings and reconsidering how work experience is evaluated. Highlight skill needs like teamwork, customer service, and organization to create a more inclusive internship posting for first-generation college students.
A majority of first-generation college students ranked compensation as one of the three most influential factors when considering an internship, compared to under half of continuing-generation college students.
“My parents don’t really have the financial position to help me out on a lot of things,” another student said. “I’m kind of on my own.”
If increased compensation is not feasible for your company, consider offering benefits like commute stipends and discounted or free on-site lunches, or scholarship programs for students with financial need.
38% of first-generation college students said the absence of housing or a housing stipend would prevent them from accepting or completing a summer internship.
This makes first-generation college students nearly twice as likely as continuing-generation college students to not be able to accept an internship because of housing.
If it is feasible, consider adding housing options or stipends, or develop a partnership with a local apartment complex to offer affordable options to students.