Amy* ’18 is not overly worried about what she’s doing this summer. She’ll be working in a lab at the Yale School of Medicine through the Science, Technology and Research Scholars program, which specifically provides resources for historically underrepresented students in STEM fields.
However, as an undocumented student on full financial aid, she still wonders about all the other summer opportunities she doesn’t have. She can’t apply to a number of internships that require participants to hold U.S. residency or citizenship. And although she has at her disposal up to $10,500 of Yale’s International Summer Award — which the University offers to students on financial aid for one international experience, whether in the classroom or through an internship — she is hesitant to use it.
“They don’t guarantee to let me back [into the United States], which is so scary,” Amy said. “That’s one huge disadvantage.”
Like Amy, Yamile Lozano ’17, who is also on full financial aid, participated in the STARS program in the summer after her freshman year. Both Amy and Lozano expressed appreciation for the program — which provides students with a stipend, as well as covering room and board.
In spite of the resources like STARS offered by the University, low-income Yalies like Amy and Lozano say they face a number of challenges in securing affordable summer opportunities. They don’t want to burden their families with additional financial requests. The more money they spend in a summer means the more hours they work during a school year, and navigating the funding process for their summers can be confusing.
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Amelia Nierenberg ’18 said that she turned down an internship for this summer with a $5,000 stipend because, as she puts it, “I don’t want to work in energy — I want to work in documentary film.” Nierenberg will complete a journalism internship with a $40 per week stipend instead, which won’t amount to much after she spends $118 on an unlimited New York City MetroCard.
“There are no paid options for me, but I really need to get into the industry,” Nierenberg said.
Likewise, Miles Walter ’18 will be doing a theater internship this summer for a “similarly paltry sum,” he said. Both Nierenberg and Walter stress that, in their intended fields, it is simply a matter of doing the work through these internships so that they get a foot in the door. But they also acknowledge the privilege and financial security that enables them to take on these internships: Nierenberg, for example, will be living at home. Walter said that, if he had to work in order to secure finances for his summer, he would not be able to pursue the theater internship.
Often, prestigious internships for college students are unpaid or underpaid, such as many of those offered by the White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other well-known institutions. But for many students, these summer opportunities can be crucial to pursuing career paths — in this case, politics or the arts. There is no substitute for the experiences or the connections made.
So how can Yalies who can’t afford to live in New York or Washington, D.C. for eight weeks without a paying job pursue these opportunities?
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Kelly McLaughlin, deputy director of the Center for International and Professional Experience, underscored the array of funding options Yale provides students for their summers — the ISA, for example, is unique to Yale. Last year, Yale supplied nearly $3.5 million in ISAs to 421 students. Forty of those students participated in Yale-coordinated internships abroad, receiving over $200,000 in ISAs.
“We don’t know of any other campus that does that,” McLaughlin said. “It really is Yale with the resources available to fund the ISA, trying to make it as easy as possible for students on financial aid to have at least one of the experiences, and not have to forgo them because of financial concerns.”
Director of the Office of Career Strategy Jeanine Dames said that OCS strives to work with employers to ensure a number of paid internships for students, or at least have employers offer other forms of compensation, such as a travel or lunch stipend. Likewise, she said that OCS partners with alumni to provide a number of paid internship programs across different sectors, like the Paul Block Journalism Fellowships and the Women in Government Fellowship.
McLaughlin acknowledged that the fellowships and grants offered through the University do tend to skew toward research and independent study opportunities. Out of approximately 40 Yale-funded summer undergraduate fellowship competitions managed by the CIPE’s Fellowship Programs, 15 are dedicated to research only, as opposed to the three dedicated to funding low-paying or unpaid internships. Another 13 are more open-ended, allowing funding for internships, study abroad, research and the like. Last year, approximately one in five of the fellowships awarded through the CIPE’s Fellowship Programs were for internships.
McLaughlin said that the merit-based nature of these fellowship programs — meaning that any qualified Yale student can, hypothetically, win a fellowship or grant — has driven a wedge between potential donors, some of whom question why these programs are not more clearly directed towards students with demonstrated need.
Carla Vasquez-Noriega ’15 received $1,000 from Ezra Stiles College for an unpaid internship at the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles the summer after her junior year. Vasquez-Noriega said that, although the fellowship more than covered her work expenses, she found the application and notification process convoluted.
Vasquez-Noriega also noted the difficult timeline of fellowship deadlines, many of which require students to submit a proposal for their summer plan long before learning if they have actually received an offer for an internship or not.
According to McLaughlin, since the programs fund more than just internships, moving those deadlines later in the year would create a “bottleneck” effect, inconveniencing students who seek funding for research instead.
Informal conversations with colleagues in the Office of Development, he said, suggest that the University is indeed aware of a need for student internship funding, but that any additional funding in this direction will probably stem from donor contributions.
“So far there is a sense of ‘Yes, wouldn’t that make a lot of sense?’” McLaughlin said. “We’re just very early in those discussions.”
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Lozano is critical of some of the more limiting factors Yale places on students’ summer plans: namely, the Student Income Contribution.
Students interviewed cited the SIC, which is a set amount of money that Student Financial Services expects students on financial aid to fund over the summer, as a serious consideration on their minds when they decide on what they’re doing over the summer.
The SIC is a sum that takes into account student expenses like travel and textbooks, which students are obliged to fund themselves. Among students, the SIC is often misperceived as an amount that Yalies on financial aid must pay out to the University. The reality is a little more nuanced.
Student activists have pushed for the elimination of the SIC in the past few months, even after University administrators announced that student effort amounts would be frozen at their current values despite a 4 percent term bill increase. In late March, “Unite Yale: Rally for Student Power” championed the elimination of the student contribution, while Students Unite Now staged a protest earlier in the month calling for the University to do the same.
In March, the University announced that the cap for an ISA would be increased by $500 to result in a total possible amount of $10,500 available to students. However, the award will no longer cover the SIC, which had been included within the award until this year.
For Lozano, who had applied and been accepted into a study abroad program in France for this summer, the announcement was almost a deal-breaker.
“When I found out [about the cap change] over spring break I considered not doing this program, because I realized, ‘Wow, it’s great that the ISA’s going to cover it but now I have this extra $3,000 to think about,’” she said. “How am I going to earn that? When and where? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Dean of International and Professional Experience Jane Edwards told the News in March that the updated ISA calculation was intended to serve students with the highest amount of financial need. She said that 161 of the 181 students who received all $10,000 of the ISA limit in 2014 participated in programs that cost more than $10,000. Those students would have received no SIC funding, then.
But with the summer contribution amount on her mind, Lozano isn’t even considering an unpaid internship. The SIC has narrowed her summer options — she needs something economically feasible, she said.
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Hung Pham ’15 says it can be tough to watch classmates take on unpaid internships — say, five weeks shadowing a doctor in France — to pad their resumes for medical school.
“It’s difficult having a conversation with them about these opportunities, across class dialogues,” Pham said.
Pham, a pre-med art history major, has spent his college summers volunteering as an EMT, studying abroad in France and working as a residential counselor at a summer camp in Stanford University. He is also on full financial aid. Pham, who has helped his father with day-labor jobs such as laying bricks and mowing lawns since the age of 11, said that his situation as a student with a low socioeconomic background has caused him to “form a sense of anxiety about the future.” It has also informed many of his career choices.
Pham plans to eventually enter medical school. He also knows that a career in art history would be anything but easy, with relatively low-paying jobs that are tough to land.
Pham said that finances are not necessarily a hindrance to his goal of becoming a doctor — external scholarships have covered his SIC all three years, for example. However, his experiences are fundamentally different from those of his more privileged peers with the same goal, he said. Feelings of resentment from those differing experiences and embarrassment at his less competitive applications to medical school are both present, he said.
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Sometimes, logistical details can trip up a summer plan.
Lozano said that what may seem like a simple sum — the few thousand dollars students are expected to make as part of their SIC — can loom large over the heads of students who seek to be financially independent of their families, or for whom that amount is an extra burden.
“Yale doesn’t understand the plight of very low income students. They don’t see how big of a deal $3,000 can be over the school year and summer,” Lozano said.
Rodrigo Huyke ’18 thought his summer was set. He had applied for an international Yale-coordinated computer science internship in South Africa that teaches students how to code. He received his acceptance, and then applied for an ISA, but did not receive one due to a technicality: His internship, which he said was listed on the application portal as an 8-week internship, is actually 4 weeks of classroom learning and 4 weeks of an “internship” experience, meaning that it is ineligible for ISA, which requires that the “internship” portion last 8 weeks.
Though Huyke acknowledges that this is only one summer out of three, he can’t afford the internship without the ISA, and he’s worried that, without the coding experience, his resume as a budding mechanical engineer will be limited.
Vasquez-Noriega points out that, her freshman year, finding an internship or study abroad program was a complete mystery to her. So that summer, she went home to Los Angeles instead, where she spent time with family.
But she admits that, perhaps, part of this unawareness stems from the alien nature of the whole process — the pressure to fill her summer with activity was unfamiliar to her.
“Where I came from, no one was ever that ambitious,” she said. “Super chill, comparatively. For a lot of kids it’s not a matter of being aware. We’re aware of these resources. We just don’t have the confidence or the social capital to confidently pursue these opportunities.”
*Name has been changed for anonymity.