Students pay big bucks for internships


One Bay Area company has taken that old-fashioned concept and turned it into a money-making venture. Why many parents eager to give their kids a competitive edge are paying big bucks to land their kids "unpaid" internships.

Hannah Green does ad sales for the San Francisco-based professional networking Web site

Before that, she was at Yahoo! and before that, she had a prestigious internship at Union Bank of Switzerland.

"There's no way I'd be in San Francisco and gotten my career going the way it did without it. No doubt," said Green.

University of Dreams is one of several internship placement services that have sprouted up in recent years. Think of the Redwood City-based company as part coach, part agent.

Its employees help students polish their resumes, brush up their interviewing skills and most importantly, introduce them to the actual people hiring interns in 20 cities including Sydney, Hong Kong, San Francisco and New York.

University of Dreams sets up all housing, meals, transportation and fun excursions.

All this doesn't come cheap -- fees range from $5,000 to $10,000, but you get your money back if they can't place you.

"It is an investment. It's the finishing piece for a lot of students. This is the one thing they need help on," said University of Dreams founder Eric Lochtefeld.

Lochtefeld is a Menlo Park native who started the program. he says business has grown 1,000 percent in the last five years.

Stunned that so many parents would pay big bucks for a summer job that pays next to nothing?

San Jose State career consultant Joe Boucher says it points to how competitive the market has become.

"Internships are I think, they're not really an option anymore," said Boucher.

Especially in this economy -- students are flocking to the career center, trying to gain an edge.

Milan Balinton is a senior who knows how tough it is.

"I try to research the companies so I'm knowledgeable with they do give me a call," said Balinton.

"And you've gotten calls?" asked ABC7's Kristen Sze.

"Yes," said Balinton.

"Any offers for this summer yet?" asked Sze.

"No, I'm still waiting," said Balinton.

So would he pay thousands for an internship?

"No, I'm already broke. I'm a student," said Balinton.

Critics of these programs say they give an unfair advantage to students from affluent families who can afford the fees. But University of Dreams believes the opposite is true.

Lochtefeld says his service is most beneficial to students who don't have the family connections, who don't attend the elite universities with vast networking resources.

Erin proctor from Texas had a coveted internship with fashion house Escada in New York City, thanks to University of Dreams.

"Most of the positions go to people within the company, friends or family, daughters. I was the only one who didn't have a personal connection to the company," said Proctor.

"It's just so hard to get your foot in the door. It's not that they're lazy, that's a crazy thought. These kids are just the opposite," said Lochtefeld.

Hannah says University of Dreams put her on the right path, by teaching her things she didn't learn in school.

"No one tells you, okay here's what you need to get a job, here is why networking is so important, here's how to set yourself apart in your resume. That is what I really took away from the program," said Green.

If you can't afford a paid internship placement service, don't get discouraged. Take advantage of the resources that are free like your college career center. San Jose State University has job databases, resume workshops and job fairs where students can meet face-to-face with recruiters. That face-to-face is so important, because it's all about contacts -- making them, keeping them, using them.

Related link:

  • University of Dreams

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