I told the campus rep from “University of Dreams” that I’d try to keep an open mind. Even told him I’d try to do an objective post on internprograms.com as soon as he sent more info. The information never came, so like any good skeptic, I went searching. You see, part of my job at Kent State is advising and placing public relations interns, so I gotta know what’s hot and what’s not.
Internprograms.com aroused my skepticism for a couple of reasons. First was the name: University of Dreams. A little corny, I thought. Then I read the details: Internship placement is guaranteed. Counselors coach you on your resume and set you up for interviews. Housing, transportation to and from your job, and weekday meals are part of the all-inclusive package. You also get 6 weekend getaways that are “all about fun,” says the website.
Geez! Is this an internship or spring break in Cancun? Toss me the sunscreen and show me where to sign!
For students, the package is, indeed, dreamlike. They complete an 8-week internship while living in a college dorm and continuing the college lifestyle. Add to this the attraction of an entirely new social network, developed in New York, Chicago, LA, SanFran, London or Barcelona.
It’s no surprise that testimonials on UofDreams’ website are glowing.
But I remain WAY skeptical. Other than the fact that I’m old and jaded, here’s why: Internships are about immersing students in the real world, which includes hard work and a fair number of obstacles to overcome. On paper, UofDreams sounds about as “real” as that posh resort I went to in Mexico year before last. It was a dream, to be sure, but the hardest work I did was raise my hand and say, “Senor, cerveza por favor.”
With UofDreams, students don’t need to research the market for internships; that’s done for you. They also don’t have to develop important networking skills; that’s done for you. From what I can tell, they don’t even need to perfect the skill of writing cover letters or the fine art of persistent follow-up. But most important, UofDreams students don’t have to deal with the rejection one invariably encounters as part of the internship-search process. The jobs are pretty much handpicked and served up on the proverbial silver platter.
So, can you see why most UofDreams students love the program? Who wouldn’t? You show up, take a few interviews, polish your shoes and go to work. In my world it’s called the path of least resistance, and it does little to thicken one’s professional hide or build personal character.
The UofDreams experience isn’t cheap, but that depends on your perspective. “Tuition” ranges from $6,500 in Chicago to $9,000 in London (airfare not included). For the students from Wellesley and Penn, that may sound like a bargain. But if you’re one of those public-school grunts, it’s a chunka change. A student at Kent State can cover a semester’s tuition plus room and board for just a tad more than the cost of 8 weeks with UofDreams in LA. But like I say, it all depends on your perspective — or the size of mom & dad’s bank account.
For Kent State students the cost is actually 25-50% higher when you figure lost income, as 95% of UofDreams internships are unpaid, while 95% of our internships offer compensation between $7 and $15/hour.
Anyhow, it’s little wonder UofDreams can guarantee internships. What business wouldn’t want a bright young slave for the summer?
To be fair, UofDreams doesn’t compel students to take any internship they don’t want. The student holds veto power on any placement, and a refund is available for those who don’t find the right one. But 99% of those accepted to the program stick with it, the website says.
Yeah, yeah. I know an internship at a PR firm in Cleveland or Pittsburgh is hardly as glamorous as one in New York or London. And you certainly don’t get the UofDreams “experience.” The internship in Columbus or Detroit may not seem like a “dream” job, but it is a very real experience that prepares you for the next step. If it knocks you around a bit in the process, get back up and press on.
So I come back to the summer-camp analogy in the headline. Clearly, the UofDreams program is popular with students. It’s a dream come true. And if Mom and Dad are willing to pony up, their kids all too often will follow that dream (with apologies to Elvis).
But eventually the UofDreams students will be out there fighting the battle with the rest of us. I just wonder if these summer-camp-like internships will truly prepare them for what lies ahead.
Call me old fashioned, but I believe the better internships more closely resemble boot camp than they do summer camp.