Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Tips for Students

The Expense of Unpaid Internships

Hi Andy,


I’m a junior that has landed an unpaid internship with a television network in New York City this summer.  My employer tells me that I have to earn academic credit for the internship.  This would be the opportunity of a lifetime, but it’s really expensive to live in New York and I’m not being paid.  Can you help?


A hopeful NYC intern

Dear hopeful NYC intern,

Several students have raised this question during the spring semester so I asked one of our team members, Patrick Sullivan for his sage advice. His wisdom is captured below…

Aside from two Wake Forest endowments that offer stipends for unpaid entrepreneurial activities, there is very little money available to fund unpaid internships.  Given this reality, here are a few options to consider:

1.  Part-time internship/Part-time work – In many cases employers offering unpaid internships will be flexible in their scheduling because they recognize the costs you will incur.  Consider interning part–time to build professional experience while working part–time in a summer job to earn the money you need for your expenses.  Check out sites like Craigslist or Snagajob to identify part-time jobs in New York City.

If your schedule allows, you could also consider working in a temporary job before or after your internship to earn more money.

2.  Limit your housing costs – Living in New York City is expensive, without a doubt.  In addition to the options available through organizations like Educational Housing Services many college dormitories are rented out to interns during the summer.  In New York City, dormitory housing at NYU and Columbia offers great, inexpensive options for summer interns.

3.  Limit the cost of earning credit – You can also limit the cost of earning credit through Wake Forest.  If your employer requires you to earn credit during the summer, the least expensive option available is Business 181, a 1-credit class that any student, regardless of major, can take.  You can contact Dean Betsy Hoppe in the Schools of Business for more information.

If your employer does not require you to earn credit during the summer, you can arrange an independent study project, based on your internship experience, to be completed in the fall of 2011.  By enrolling and receiving your credit in the fall, your tuition costs will be absorbed into full-time tuition and you would not have to pay summer school tuition.

If you are creative and consider these suggestions, you can certainly manage your costs effectively.  While unpaid summer internships do present challenges, the skills and experience you gain are critical for your personal and career development.

101 Things to do Before you Graduate

My friend, Jullien Gordon, co-wrote the book “101 Things to do Before you Graduate” and in my opinion, it is a must read for every college bound high school senior.  It may seem a bit overwhelming to begin with, right?  101 things to do before I graduate—heck, I haven’t even started!  The reality is, developing goals and having a plan to achieve them is one key to success in college.  This book is the ideal blueprint for creating that plan.

The book is divided into four ‘chapters’, if you will, focusing on Academic, Career, Money and Success.  Then broken down even further into:  Academic Excellence, Above & Beyond, Campus Involvement, Graduate School, Networking, Skill Development, Personal Brand, Job Hunting, Manage your Money, Make Money, Health and Wellness, Relationships, Leadership and Service and Personal Growth.

“If you want to build a solid foundation for an inspired life, this list will pay off in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Internships for pre-meds

Dear Andy,

I have seen a great improvement in career services over the last year and really appreciate your team’s efforts. My daughter is a junior pre-med and has been looking for an opportunity for the summer.  She seems to be having a difficult time finding an opportunity to match a
pre-med student’s needs.  Should she apply for any internship rather than none at all?  Is there a database of internships for pre-meds?

– A Pre-Med’s Dad

Dear P.M.D.,

There are several resources that your daughter should be actively using:

  1. She should contact Professor Pat Lord to get onto the listserv for pre-health/pre-med students.  Then, she will be kept informed about important pre-med news and information.
  2. She should also meet with Dr. Lord once she returns to campus during spring semester.  Dr. Lord can discuss summer opportunities as well her overall strategy and plan for applying to medical schools, including letters of recommendation.
  3. A helpful website listing hundreds of co-op and internship opportunities for pre-med students and students interested in biomedical research: http://people.rit.edu/gtfsbi/Symp/premed.htm
  4. Many universities run summer research programs for undergraduates.  While some of these programs are intended to introduce students to PhD programs, many of them are relevant for and open to the pre-med student.  A link to a list of such programs is here – http://www.the-aps.org/education/ugsrf/sumreslinks.htm
  5. By meeting with a career counselor in the Office of Career Services, she will be introduced to a variety of databases and other sources that would have opportunities that fit her interests.  UCAN and internships.com have many internship and volunteer opportunities for students interested in medicine.

If you daughter proactively engages with the many resources available, she should be able to find an internship that will help her learn more about medical careers and enhance her potential application.  If she is serious about medical school, it is important for her to find a valuable, worthwhile internship.

Job searching when on semester abroad

Dear Andy,

As a parent of a junior that is about to leave for a semester abroad, I was wondering what advice you might provide about internships for the summer. I assume that a lot of applications/interviews for these must occur during the spring semester, and she will be unable to follow through with an interview if she is out of the country. What would you suggest as an appropriate approach to this problem? Many of the applications are online and would not provide the “cover letter” option to inform prospective internships of her unavailability. Any advice you or someone in career development might have would be appreciated.  Thanks!

– A Concerned Mom

Dear C.M.,

Thanks for writing to me about your daughter’s situation.  There are hundreds of students who will have a similar experience so it’s good to be inquiring.

Let’s start by addressing the internship market and process:

  1. Although some internships are acquired by students through on-campus recruiting activities, the majority are acquired by candidates who seek out contacts and opportunities (this is networking).  Email and phone are very acceptable methods to make these types of connections.
  2. Numerous employers choose not to absorb the cost of bringing candidates to their location for in-person interviews.  As a result, they will make their internship offer decisions based on applications and phone/video or Skype interviews.  Many online applications require a cover letter so candidates can explain their interest and qualifications.  As long as your daughter is able and willing to make the arrangements for an international phone call, there should be no disadvantage to her bring abroad.
  3. For many firms, interviews can be conducted with Skype, so your daughter’s international location is not a barrier.

I asked our career counselors for their advice and recommendations:

  1. If it’s possible before she leaves the country, she should set up an appointment with a career counselor to develop a job search action plan that takes into account her interests and study-abroad experience. This appointment can be done over the phone or in person. To make the appointment, she can call our main office at 336-758-5902.
  2. If she has an interest in specific employers who recruit on-campus, she should speak with Dana Hutchens in the Office of Career Services.  Dana will give your daughter instructions on how to apply and be considered for such opportunities.
  3. Utilize the information and list of internship websites and resources available on the Career Services internship website: http://career.opcd.wfu.edu/career-resources/how-to-find-an-internship/. http://career.opcd.wfu.edu/career-resources/internship-and-job-postings/.
  4. If your daughter is a BEM student in the business school, she should speak with professor Holly Brower for specific suggestions on how BEM students addressed this issue last year.  Dr. Brower has many relationships with companies who offer internships for BEM students.
  5. If your daughter is interested in an academic or research internship, she should speak to a faculty member in her area of interest for advice and support.

As you can tell by the above advice, your daughter has many resources available to her.  Please encourage her to utilize them as soon as possible.  She will gather the necessary information and generate more potential options if she gets started on this process before she heads overseas.

Pre-Med isn’t for everyone

Each year, about 30% of the incoming class indicates that they are a Pre-Med.  After four years, only 5% actually end up going to medical school.  Along the way, these “Post Pre-Meds” must re-set their career direction – and possibly have difficult conversations with their parents.

Meredith Smith had dreamed of being a doctor since she was three years old.  She and her parents assumed that it was the only option when she entered Wake Forest in 2006.  Meredith soon learned that chemistry and biology in college was very different than in high school; and she needed to find a new direction.

In my interview with Meredith, she shares her journey from Pre-Med to Communications and German; to great marketing and public relations internships; to the summer business management program; to becoming a Wake Forest Fellow working with the Office for Personal and Career Development.  She has built a solid foundation for her business career.  Meredith_Smith_32k

It’s OK if your student learns that they’ve lost interest in being a doctor.  With the help of the career office, professors and many others around campus, your student can find other interests, passions and career directions.

Help them by accepting their decision and supporting them through their transition.  By moving through this transition quickly, they can begin exploring new options as soon as they are ready.

Afraid to network? Make connections instead

I interviewed Class of 2010 grad Kellyn Springer and she shared her variety of experiences that led to her developing strong skills in connecting with all types of people.  She studied abroad in Thailand, and landed two internships in the U.S. Congress.

She currently works for Wake Forest on the alumni relations team.  In her role, she meets with alumni who willingly offer their time and advice to students.  Kellyn encourages students to take advantage of the wonderful community of supporters – alumni, faculty, staff, parents and friends – who love Wake Forest and love to help students.  Kellyn_Springer_56k

You can be much more than your major

During first year orientation, I interviewed several recent graduates including Jermyn Davis who was a double major in Political Science and Chinese.  Jermyn and I talked about how his extracurricular experiences played a huge role in his interviews with potential employers – much more than what he majored in.  In fact, he received many offers as a result of his extracurricular experiences and his ability to communicate his interests, strengths, skills and passions with his resume, cover letters, emails and in person.

Jermyn also encourages students to manage their time well and gives several tips on how to make the most of all that students do at Wake Forest.  Listen to Jermyn’s tips on how to become attractive to employers – no matter what you major in.  Jermyn_Davis_56k

Career Tips for First Year Students

In my address to about 400 first year students last month, I interviewed four terrific Wake Forest graduates from the Class of 2010 to share their experiences with the first year students.  Each had unique experiences that address many of the common issues, questions and roadblock that first year students experience.

Mark Russell was a varsity athlete at Wake Forest.  Even with the heavy load that student-athletes experience, he was able to obtain several internships during the summer and during the school year.  He offers some tips for how he was able to build a solid academic foundation in his first year which gave him the confidence, skills and flexibility to easily take on internships in his later years.

He obtained coveted sports marketing internship where he learned that it wasn’t the best career for him.  In his senior year, he was panicked because every internship didn’t turn out like he had hoped.  Nevertheless, he found a terrific job that he’s enjoying now – after he asked for help from a counselor in the career office.  In his interview, Mark offers some additional advice to the students.

Listen to Mark’s interview and learn from his experience: Mark Russell Interview

To double major or triple minor?

Faculty Advisor Question: “When I advise students, they frequently are hot to double major and minor/double minor/triple minor – on the assumption that this will somehow make them more employable.  Neither I, nor any of my colleagues, have any evidence that minors or additional majors are of any use in this regard, absent a few specific situations.  What’s your view?”

Andy’s Answer: The choice of doing a double major or a minor is an individual decision.  In some cases, the second major can make a difference with respect to employability – when the 2nd major has direct relationship with the requirements and expectations of the potential employer.  For example, having a 2nd major in political science can help if you plan to work in politics.  Or having a minor in entrepreneurship can communicate to employers that you have knowledge and interest in business.

However, it is not required; nor is it beneficial in all cases.  I would posit that having challenging extracurricular activities and internships have greater benefit towards potential employability than having a 2nd major or a double minor.

If a 2nd major or minor results in the student having less time to pursue interesting extracurricular activities and roles or internships, this would be a poor decision.  If the 2nd major or minor results in damaging the student’s academic record, this would also be a poor decision.

If one were to have double or triple minors, a student will need to be prepared for the employer interview question, “Why did you have so many minors?” because it’s not what they typically see.  Employers need to hear logical answers so the student must be prepared to give one.

Thus, I conclude that 2nd major or minor should be pursued primarily because the student is genuinely interested in the academic area. And in some cases, it could be beneficial for employment marketability. However, the student should ask the career office or employers about their assumptions and hypothesis before making a final decision.

As I like to say, a sound decision is an informed decision. It can be costly to make such a decision without really knowing the facts.

Learning business outside of b-school

In my last post, I mentioned that there are many ways to build business skills, experiences and knowledge without having to major in business at college.  These activities are ways for both liberal arts and business students to learn about business as well as figure out areas of interest. Although some of the ideas listed below are specific to Wake Forest students, many colleges and universities offer similar programs and resources.  Some of the offerings below are available at Wake Forest to non-Wake Forest students (like the MA in Management and MBA graduate school).

The following are examples of ways you can learn about business without majoring in it:

  • MA in Management – One year program for liberal arts majors immediately after completing a bachelor’s degree. Equivalent to the 1st year of the MBA program.
  • Summer Management Program – One month summer business program for liberal arts majors.
  • Minor in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise – Take classes from both the business school and liberal arts college to understand the basics of starting and growing a business, as well as learn the disciplines of innovation and creativity.
  • Start your own business with support from the University Center for Entrepreneurship – The best way to learn about business is to run one. Why not try starting your own for-profit or non-profit organization? You can sell it or find someone else to manage it when you graduate.
  • Internships – Work with your career office to develop an action plan for finding ones that interest you
  • Projects with companies and community organizations – Pro bono or for a class project
  • Read the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, BusinessWeek, Inc., or other business journals
  • Join a business-oriented club: consulting, finance, marketing, retail. etc…
  • Join the newspaper or radio station or fraternity/sorority/social club business staff
  • Work at a business operation on or off-campus and ask for new projects to learn more about how the business is run
  • Talk to your parents, your friends’ parents or other working adults about their businesses and career journeys
  • Take a class or two at the undergraduate or graduate business school
  • Participate in business case competitions
  • Hang out with business students and learn their lingo and how they are preparing for life after college
  • Read about business careers from Vault or WetFeet.com. Your career center should have similar resources
  • Consider graduate business school after getting some work and life experience. Most schools do not expect (or even want) you to have majored in business in college

Whether you go to the business school or not, you should do many of the things above to help you learn about business and help you figure out what areas of business are of most interest to you.  In addition, you’ll be better prepared to market yourself to employers, communicate a high knowledge and interest level, and have good stories to share with them (which is a particularly critical asset for interviews).

If you have other ways to learn about business besides majoring in it, please share them with me and my readers.  Many students and parents would appreciate your advice.