According to The Center for First-Generation Student Success, only 46% of first-gen students participate in extra-curricular or co-curricular activities throughout their undergraduate careers, compared to 65% of continuing-generation students. Breaking down these numbers into different categories of experiential learning (i.e., internships, clubs, research, study abroad, etc.), continuing-generation students engage in these experiences at higher rates than first-gen students. Although UConn offers many programs specifically for first-gen students, such as First Generation UConn, it is also important to consider external opportunities and how they may (or may not) help close these gaps in experiential learning participation.
Take virtual internships, for example. These opportunities have become increasingly popular throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing interns to telecommute from their homes to prevent the continued spread of the virus. While virtual jobs and internships seem like they are becoming the “new normal,” let’s consider the impacts of these opportunities and whether they work to include or exclude first-gen students.
Pros of virtual internships
No transportation necessary – When working remotely, interns can work from anywhere, or in most cases, from home. It reduces the time it would typically take to commute to and from an office location or find alternate transportation methods (i.e., bus, train, carpool, etc.). Telecommuting also opens opportunities outside of a person’s immediate area, such as those in different cities, states, or even time zones.
Flexible hours – Many students, especially first-gen students, have busy schedules and other commitments (like part-time jobs) that prevent them from dedicating more time to an internship experience. Having an online internship can allow students more flexibility when they choose to work, even outside of traditional business hours.
Greater autonomy – Working outside of an office requires employers to build trust with their workers and encourage independence. In addition, it allows interns to gain valuable skills, such as time management, and demonstrate their ability to complete tasks without constant supervision.
Cons of virtual internships
Technology – Virtual opportunities require some technological component, such as having access to a reliable internet connection or computer. When this is a requirement of this position, it excludes students who do not have these resources or cannot dedicate these resources for the required time commitment.
More likely to be unpaid – A recent study finds that approximately 42% of virtual internships are unpaid versus 34% of in-person internships. While internships can provide valuable career development experience, those who cannot dedicate more time for no pay cannot take advantage of these benefits.
Reduced job satisfaction – Working remotely can also have many challenges, such as difficulty developing working relationships and other network connections. In some cases, interns may not feel challenged in their assigned work. The study mentioned above also notes that only about 32% of virtual interns thought they were completing relevant and/or high-skill work compared to 40% of in-person interns.
As you can see, virtual internships are not a one-size-fits-all experience. Instead, the value of an online experience depends significantly on a person’s circumstances and whether the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa. If you are interested in participating in an online internship but are unsure whether it is the right path for you, consider scheduling an appointment with a Career Coach at the Center for Career Development. This one-on-one, individualized appointment is a great resource to weigh your options and be introduced to other existing opportunities.
For other resources specific to first-gen students, feel free to browse through the First Gen Affinity Community!