Summer Internships Merit Credit


For students, summer internships are a large source of stress. Undergraduate college students devote increasing amounts of time to procuring “impressive” internships or embarking on exciting opportunities. As this trend develops, the question arises: Should colleges and universities grant credit for summer internships? Does the educational value of an internships merit formal academic recognition? The SGA, in a bill submitted by Senator Kailash Raj Pandey on April 8, argues yes.

Many colleges recognize the educational value of the extracurricular experiences that students engage in when they pursue internships and reward the pursuit of these experiences with academic credit. Schools such as UC Berkeley, University of Michigan and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill all afford students the chance to accrue credits while working at an internship, according to their websites. At Middlebury, however, this is not the case. Although students pursue internships for academic credit during J-Term, summer internships are not eligible to receive academic credit toward the fulfillment of any requirements.

At its core, we feel that Middlebury’s lack of provision of credit for summer internships runs counter to its educational mission as a liberal arts institution. At Middlebury and other liberal art colleges, a defining component of the educational mission is a belief that varied, self-motivated, worldly experience forms an essential piece of each student’s liberal arts education. The Middlebury mission statement reflects this objective: “Through the pursuit of knowledge unconstrained by national or disciplinary boundaries, students who come to Middlebury learn to engage the world.”

When pursued with care and intentionality, summer internships may perfectly fulfill the designation of educational experiences “unconstrained by national or disciplinary boundaries.”  Internship experiences are rooted in real-world work, demand reflection and self-evaluation, and provide us with educational moments that we simply cannot get while working as full-time students at Middlebury College. Regardless of whether the internship is paid or unpaid, any professional position conducted with introspection, intentionality and rigor supplements the mission statement’s vision of education at Middlebury. Offering credit for internships would demonstrate that the administration recognizes their academic value.

In order to ensure the jobs they perform are worthy of receiving credit, students participating in these internships could be subjected to a check-in process similar to the one that students who receive CCI internship funding have to go through. This process calls on students to submit photos, written reflections and employer updates to the CCI in order to uphold their funding grants. Given the correct screening and check-in measures, it’s entirely possible to construct a system under which internships that are pursued with care and rigor are granted appropriate academic credit.

Beyond Middlebury’s educational mission, we see a number of other reasons that summer internship experience should be able to count toward a student’s academic credits. For one, many companies and businesses that offer so-called “unpaid internships” will not allow students to take unpaid positions unless they are earning academic credit for the work they perform (usually for legal reasons). Granting academic credit for internships would allow students to take positions that would otherwise have been unavailable to them by virtue of the college’s current policy.

Furthermore, providing academic credit for summer positions would aid many students who might wish to graduate early from Middlebury for financial reasons. Rather than taking on five-class semesters or taking summer classes at other schools, these students would be able to accumulate credits for meaningful experiences earned during summers in working toward graduating on their own schedule.

The internship process for international students, however, is entirely different. When applying to study in the United States, prospective students must obtain an F-1 visa. This visa is a non-immigrant visa; those who hope to study in the United States must have official residence in their home country and intend to return back to their country of citizenship. The purpose of this visa is to educate the student and then allow them to bring this newfound education back to their country of origin, not the United States.

When applying for internships in the US, F-1 students can apply for Optional Practical Training, which is temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion).

In order to use OPT effectively, an international student must carefully ration out their time in the United States; each student is limited to only 12 months of this form of authorization at each degree level, so the use of it prior to graduation significantly affects these students’ future options in the United States. As stated in senator Pandey’s bill, an international student must pay a $410 filing fee each time they want to engage in an off-campus internship experience that is not for academic credit. This significantly limits who is able to apply for internships; an international student may have to turn down the same opportunity that a U.S. peer student is able to accept and benefit from.

If this bill is passed, international students will be afforded the same opportunities as their American peers. As a board we endorse the idea of this bill; international students should be able to receive academic credit for internships without having to jump through hoops to do so.

That said, there are a number of technical questions that must be answered if the college is to take this step: How many credits might a single internship count for? What exactly would an effective screening process look like in order to ensure a position’s validity? How should communication between the college and employers factor into the process? While these details must eventually be worked out, we call upon the college to first recognize that, on an ideological level, granting academic credit for internship aligns with the mission statement of this institution.

For many faculty and staff, the prospect of granting students academic credit for experiences undertaken away from lecture halls and discussion circles will no doubt seem like a drastic step, as it contradicts many conceptions of what it means to be a traditional college student.

But from an ideological standpoint, granting credit for these positions aligns with what it means to be a college student today, in a world where experience is deemed to be of the utmost value for students entering the workforce. It also aligns with what it means to be a student at a liberal arts institution, where these experiences are valued as components of each student’s personal education.