Résumés, applications, interviews, internships, offers.

That’s how it used to work.

With the sunken economy and a bachelor’s degree decreasing in value with every master’s degree earned, securing jobs has become a greater challenge for college graduates.

But with a résumé-bolstering internship that can offer networking connections for many, the chances of landing a job become greater. And, for some, the key to getting into that career-changing internship or program is a fat checkbook.

Paying your way there

Leading the trend in internships for purchase, University of Dreams is a program that places students in internship positions for the summer — if you can find a way to pay. The program charges between $ 5,500 and $9,500 per program depending on the location.

Eric Normington, the chief marketing officer for University of Dreams, said the cost isn’t just for the internship, but for the experience that goes along with it.

“It’s way more than just an internship,” he said.

The University of Dreams has a network of employers that have been pre-screened and with whom the company has made long-lasting relationships. To place students with their ideal internship, University of Dreams works with students individually to match them with an employer that meets their needs.

The cost of the program includes housing, transportation and career development both before and during the internship. For some, there is also an academic component that allows students to receive credit at their respective institutions. But most of the internships are unpaid, Normington said.

“Internships are an investment,” Normington said. “Having relevant work experience is a necessity.”

Normington said University of Dreams offers both full and partial scholarships and has a network of third parties that contribute in helping students with financial need.

“The students that do our program are very focused, understand that getting relevant work experience is an investment,” he said.

The University of Michigan leads program enrollment with University of Dreams. There is no formal advertising, though, and Normington said that as a small company, recruitment is often just by word of mouth through former participants and their families and friends.

Taking a semester to intern

The Washington Center is a nonprofit organization that places students in academic internship experiences in the Washington, D.C. area — and another example of how internships are changing. The program is the largest of its kind and offers an extensive scholarship program.

Unlike University of Dreams, TWC stresses the academic component of the program as part of its cost. A semester with TWC costs just under $11,000 with its housing program — however, students gain between 12 and 15 credits per semester and 9 to 12 credits per summer term.

In addition to the internship, each student participates in academic coursework taught in the evenings, TWC President Mike Smith said.

TWC only takes applicants whose universities accept the credit earned during the semester or summer program. Smith said there are hundreds of affiliated colleges that offer college credit to participate in the program, both public and private.

TWC also offers extensive financial aid for its programs. Between 75 and 80 percent of participants receive some form for financial assistance to participate. Though Smith said about 20 percent of internships provide a stipend, the majority are unpaid, which is part of the reason why TWC works to defray many program costs.

Smith noted that participation in the program in on the rise — in large part because of the economy.

“Right now, more people feel that it’s important to have an internship on their résumé — clearly they’re right,” he said.

He added that with the election of President Barack Obama, more students are taking an interest in coming to Washington, a common phenomenon when the White House changes political parties.

Smith said TWC operates similar to a university since both are registered as nonprofit organizations. The program has a cost, similar to tuition, along with a separate, optional housing plan that the student can choose to enroll in.

Students interested in interning in Washington can also go through the University’s Michigan in Washington Program. The program is similar to study abroad and places 20 to 25 students in Washington, D.C. for a semester.

Students in the program get course credit and they take classes in Washington. Applications are accepted from undergraduates in any field.

According to the program’s website, about one third of students’ internships are paid. But, because of the increased living costs, the Michigan in Washington program costs about $5,500 more than a semester in Ann Arbor. There are scholarships available, though, and student aid can be transferred to the program.

All about the alumni

Internships are a way to establish connections within a specified industry. Many students use internships to build networks that they can contact for jobs post-graduation.

Geni Harclerode, coordinator of internships and experiential learning at The Career Center, said connections are important, but “perhaps it’s been blown out of proportion.”

Harclerode said relying on connections as the only way into a job doesn’t give employers — who comb through cover letters and résumés in search of reliable candidates — enough credit.

Harclerode said students who feel unconnected to these privileged networks should realize they already have access to a network: the University.

The Alumni Association is a built-in network of University grads, many of whom are willing to meet with students and offer advice, Harclerode said. She said students should take advantage of InCircle, a University alum social networking tool similar to Facebook, and LinkedIn, a professional social networking tool.

The Alumni Association also offers mentorship relationships within its network while hosting events periodically that offer career advice and networking opportunities.

Smith said TWC’s alumni have a lot to do with the program’s success. With an alumni base of 40,000 over the past 34 years, TWC has multiple alums willing to support the center and recommend its programs.

University of Dreams only has a 10-year history, but Normington attributed word-of-mouth success to the more than 7,000 alums of the program. Normington added that program alums are starting to give back to the program by offering internship opportunities available to new participants.

The future of internships

With the job market declining, many students are concerned that internship positions could decline with it.

But Smith said there’s no reason to worry.

“I think there will be enough internships,” he said. “You get a free look at an employee as an intern. I see internships expanding and not retracting.”

In fact, Harclerode said employers are actually looking for interns. Harclerode said hiring interns allows employers to test drive future employees for free. Many employers are hiring interns earlier in the year and trying to convert as many of those interns to full-time employees as possible, she said.

“One huge thing we’re seeing is employers hiring more interns,” she said.

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