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COLUMN: Internships are the high heels of the professional world

By Briana Bowen
On March 31, 2014

When I was little, I had zero tolerance for frills. Dressing up for church, weddings and piano recitals seemed quite like the modern equivalent of the most maleficent medieval torture practices. In preschool, I majored in treehouse construction with minors in mudpie fabrication and twig swordsmanship and managed an impressive GPA in all three fields. We’ll ignore my failing grades in sparkly shoes and elementary hairstyling.

By the time I entered high school, I got an inkling that — devastatingly enough — I might not be able to avoid the “frills” thing for the rest of my life. The skirts and slacks, fine. I could survive a few hours in those. Earrings, and I actually got along passably well. But my arch-nemesis, which was unbearable above all, remained the object of my loathing: high heels.

Once my college days rolled around, high heels and I were locked in a constant battle as school and professional responsibilities seemed to bring them into my life more and more often. Sore ankles and squished toes made me wonder more than once why I was bothering to suffer for something that just didn’t seem to be paying returns. Wearing heels was a nuisance, bearing a high-opportunity cost for comfortable feet, and it literally slowed me down as I clip-clopped between meetings sounding like the Royal Cavalry.

It was on an otherwise unremarkable day during my junior year that I had the “heels epiphany.” Wearing heels was an investment: a short-term sacrifice that was paying out less-obvious yet real returns. When I would bite the bullet and rock the heels, my confidence increased, my level of professionalism rose and my business-like appearance made people take me more seriously. Plus, it was hard not to feel a little bit snazzy while rocking red satin stilettos.

For the dedicated few of you still reading at this point, you’re likely wondering how any of this fascinating narrative relates to unpaid internships. Behold.

Internships are the proverbial high heels of every undergraduate’s college experience. Internships, whether they be in business or science or government, often require students to take time off from school, or at least reduce a semester’s credit load, slowing them down in reaching the eventual goal of graduation. Doing an internship often has a high-opportunity cost. Students could be taking more classes, getting involved in more clubs or sports, or taking more naps — the most compelling argument, in my opinion — rather than doing an internship. If an internship is paid, sometimes it’s a little easier to swallow: If it’s unpaid, it’s often hard to justify making such a sacrifice with no obvious short-term return.

Yet internships are one of the best investments students can make. Serving an internship gives you not only practical experience to expand upon your classroom learning but also legitimacy in the eyes of employers and graduate programs. You made the sacrifice — challenging though it may have been — to develop yourself as a professional and as a person, rather than just being a check-the-box student. Anyone who graduates college has proven they can sit in a classroom and submit passable academic work, but the degree itself can only go so far in speaking to your caliber as a professional, as an innovator who will take every opportunity to improve and challenge yourself.

Make yourself a promise to try to do an internship or two before you graduate. It doesn’t matter if it’s local or national or even international: It’ll be an investment you’ll be glad you made. And like the red stilettos, I’ll be surprised if you don’t feel just a little bit awesome rocking your internship.

Briana is a political science major in her last semester at USU. She is an avid road cyclist and a 2013 Truman Scholar. Proudest accomplishment: True Aggie. Reach Briana at b.bowen@aggiemail.usu.edu.

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