Students who have internships on their resume are more likely to land full-time jobs after graduation. Internships also have benefits beyond simply securing gainful employment. In one study, over 80% of graduates reported that their internship helped them change their career direction.
But research shows that only 59.5% of Black students and 53.3% of Latinx students participate in internships, compared to 68.2% of White students. That’s a problem not only for students but also for their prospective employers. Diverse companies are more successful companies. According to analysis from McKinsey, employers in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity are up to 36% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.
Still, many companies struggle with inclusion, relying on hiring practices such as referrals, which tend to give advantages to White candidates over those who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). In theory, internships could help level the playing field, but only if these experiences are more available to students of color.
Challenges for Students of Color
The racial wealth gap is larger—much larger—than the racial wage gap, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Median White wealth is 12 times greater than median Black wealth. More than a quarter of Black households have a net worth of zero or less, compared to less than 10% of White households.
Unpaid internships perpetuate this inequity. Half of the internships filled in the United States are unpaid. Unsurprisingly, students from higher-income families are more likely to take these unpaid openings. As a result, lower-income students (including those who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color) have less access to opportunities in fields that tend to offer unpaid internships, including the nonprofit and government sectors.
Resources Available to Students of Color
College Career Services: Research shows that students of color are more likely to visit their college’s career services center than White students. In terms of closing the internship opportunity gap, that’s a very good thing. College career services can help students with career-related tasks such as resume writing, job interview prep, and career self-assessment. Career services is also a good place to start your search for an internship.
Your college career services can also help you find funded grants for unpaid internships, which may enable you to consider a wider range of opportunities.
Professional Associations: You don’t need to wait until you’ve landed your first entry-level job to join a professional association, and many have discounts for students. Use the Directory of Associations to find organizations in your area and start networking while you’re still in school.
The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU): HACU sponsors a variety of programs, including scholarships, career development, and pre-collegiate support. The HACU National Internship Program (HNIP) runs three sessions a year and partners with companies such as Google, Oracle, and Ford Motor Company, as well as various government agencies.
INROADS, Inc.: This nonprofit organization offers paid internships to high school seniors and college students who have at least 27 credit hours left before graduation. Students can be focused on a variety of majors and career interests, including business, economics, software engineering, supply chain management, retail management, health care, and liberal arts. INROADS interns have worked at over 200 companies, including Boeing, TD Bank, Pfizer, Deloitte, and United Health Group.
The Minority Access National Diversity & Inclusion Internship Program: Minority Access, Inc. connects undergraduate and graduate students with internship opportunities at government agencies in the Washington, D.C. area. The organization pays stipends, benefits, travel expenses, and offers housing assistance.
Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO): An educational and career development nonprofit, SEO Career offers several programs including an internship program that pairs students of color with paid opportunities in financial services, technology, business services, and real estate. SEO Career says that 80% of its interns receive full-time job offers from its partners.
Best Internships for Students of Color
What’s the best internship for you? It depends on your career goals, educational background and interests, and financial situation. To give you a sense of the possibilities, we’ve gathered a few promising opportunities in a variety of fields, including arts, media, government, and STEM.
All internships on this list are paid, and some cover travels costs. Read more about each opportunity for details.
The Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program: SR-EIP offers research training and mentoring to undergraduates who are interested in applying to PhD or MD-PhD programs. Students spend eight to 10 weeks conducting research at one of 30-plus Leadership Alliance member institutions, which include Ivy League schools and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Student researchers then present their research at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium. This internship offers a stipend and travel and housing expenses.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: CHCI’s Congressional Internship Program runs year-round, offering Latinx undergraduate students the opportunity to work in a congressional office. Typical duties include responding to constituent inquiries, conducting research, and attending policy briefings and congressional hearings. This program offers a stipend and covers transportation, housing expenses, and leadership training.
Getty Marrow Undergraduate Internships: The Getty Marrow Undergraduate Internship program is focused on “outstanding students who are members of groups underrepresented in careers related to museums and the visual arts.” Participants spend 10 weeks learning about conservation, curatorship, education, and related subjects at arts institutions around Los Angeles, including the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. This internship is limited to students who attend college in Los Angeles or live in the area. It offers a stipend of $6,000. (Information for 2021 internship cycle is expected in December 2020).
T. Howard Foundation’s Internship Program: Although this program is open to students of all backgrounds, its purpose is to provide opportunities for students from groups that are underrepresented in media and entertainment. This full-time, paid summer internship also includes mentorship, paid membership in professional associations, and networking events.
U.S. Department of Energy Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program: Open to high school students as well as undergraduate and graduate students, this program offers summer internships with the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Laboratories. Interns receive a stipend, lodging, and travel expenses.
McKinsey and Company Sophomore Diversity Leaders Internship: This program provides sophomores with consulting experience gaining real-world experience at a McKinsey office in North America. There is also a program for first-year students and current openings are available in a variety of locations.
Microsoft Internship Program: Microsoft is committed to “hiring individuals that are underrepresented in STEM fields” and is seeking diverse undergraduate and graduate school candidates from U.S. universities. These internship opportunities include competitive pay, benefits, and perks.
NBCUniversal Internship Program: In addition to its Summer Fellowship Program designed to attract diverse applicants for internships during the summer prior to graduation, NBCUniversal is hiring remote interns for the fall semester.
Many internship programs are competitive and have early application deadlines, so don’t wait to start your search. Your career office can help with listings for programs that are a fit for your interests.
Is This Internship Right for You?
Here are a few criteria to keep in mind as you evaluate opportunities:
- Does the internship pay? Keep in mind the opportunity cost of taking an internship instead of working at a full-time, paying job—and don’t forget to calculate the cost of travel, lodging, and living expenses in your new city.
- Is the company supportive of diversity? Look beyond diversity and inclusion groups. Is the company listed on any rankings of supportive organizations, e.g., DiversityInc’s Top 50? What do current and former employees have to say about the company culture on social media, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn?
- Will it lead to a full-time job after graduation? Some internship programs will offer statistics on how many interns are hired as full-time employees. If they don’t offer this, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your interviewer what career opportunities look like for former interns.
- What other resources does the internship offer? In addition to stipends, academic credits, and work experience, some internships offer coaching, mentoring, test preparation assistance, and so on.
How to Land an Internship
Know Your Value Remember that diversity boosts an employer’s bottom line. Your point of view and experience are valuable.
Do Your Research Seek organizations that support diversity and inclusion and will offer you the experience and skills you seek. Prepare for your interview by researching the company.
Build Your Network Use your internship experience to cultivate relationships with contacts and mentors.
Think Long-Term Turn your internship into a potential full-time job by making a good impression.