Students’ Summer-Internship Plans Evaporate Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

-by Patrick Thomas
April 22, 2020

“As companies continue work-from-home edicts, many students see their offers rescinded; ‘It’s demoralizing’

Alexandra Pirsos, a junior studying marketing at Elon University in North Carolina, had been planning to intern for Wayfair Inc. since October. Last week, the online purveyor of home furnishings canceled its summer program.

Ms. Pirsos, 21, joins a growing cohort of college students who have had their summer-internship plans quashed or shortened to just a few weeks of online work experience amid the spread of the new coronavirus, which has sent millions of employees home to work remotely.

While college seniors from the class of 2020 now face graduating into a recession in May, students with more time left in school are adjusting their career plans as internships crucial to their future professional development disappear. Internships can be valuable to college students who use them to build their résumés and develop an industry network—and often lead to full-time job offers.

“Knowing I won’t have that opportunity to network, to learn, to grow but then to also possibly have a job after I graduate is definitely scary and unsettling,” Ms. Pirsos said. “Online school is over in three weeks, and I have no idea what the future holds.”

Jasmine Cadavez, 20, is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and plans to graduate next spring. Because she is finishing college a year early, she is frustrated that her internship at a regional bank was shortened several weeks because she said it was critical to remaining competitive in the job market.

“It’s out of my control,” she said. “There’s nothing I can really do.”

An April 17 survey of companies from the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that 16% of respondents had revoked their summer-internship offers and an additional 23% were considering rescinding them. The poll also found that 39% of employers are planning to move their internship program completely online.

For two-year graduate students, internships lead to full-time jobs after graduation or provide crucial experience for career switchers.

“We are late in the internship recruiting process now. Many employers have filled all of their opportunities and are no longer accepting applicants, which leaves students with significantly fewer positions to be considered for,” said Kevin Stacia, an M.B.A. career coach and corporate-relations manager at Georgia Tech.

Mercy Iyere, a first-year graduate student studying city planning at Rutgers University, is still searching for a summer internship. She said many employers have told her in recent weeks that they have frozen their intern-hiring plans. If she can’t find anything for the summer, Ms. Iyere said she might move in with her mother in Massachusetts and brush up on her data skills in Python, a coding language, or look for a temporary job at a warehouse for Inc.

“It’s not like an undergrad where you have four years. You have one summer to work for someone full-time,” said Ms. Iyere, who used to work as a staff geologist in Atlanta. She has another year of grad school before earning her degree in the spring of 2021. “A lot of people I know have had internships canceled or put on hold. It’s demoralizing.”

Some employers are still choosing to honor their intern commitments and moving summer programs online or finding other ways to compensate students rather than completely rescind offers, said Jeff Beavers, executive director of Michigan State University’s career-services network.

“For many employers, their internship program is critical to their talent pipeline for future open positions,” he said.

Moelis & Co., an investment bank in New York, shortened its summer internship program to four weeks online beginning in early July. At the same time it revamped the internship program, the bank also extended full-time job offers to all of its undergraduate and M.B.A. summer interns, promising them jobs that start in 2021.

Oil-field services company Halliburton Co., which suspended its summer 2020 internship program, is giving its roughly 100 would-be interns a one-time stipend, a company spokeswoman said. She declined to specify how much the stipend is. The company plans to cut more than 1,000 jobs in Texas and Oklahoma and said in March that it had furloughed 3,500 employees in Houston.

“Our intent with summer internships is to provide college students with a meaningful experience that offers the chance to learn more about our company, culture and professional job opportunities,” she said. “Unfortunately, we do not believe we can provide such an experience in this current environment.”