The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Unpaid internships impractical experiential learning credit for full-time, working students

3 min read

Students work hectic schedules already, internships are asking too much. (@dylandgillis |

By Cheyenne Kern

Staff Writer

As college tuition continues to rise, the pressure for UMW students does, too. Between balancing extracurricular activities, work and classes, some students struggle to fulfill the experiential learning requirement. Most choose to pursue an internship, many of which are unpaid and require the same legwork as a part-time or full-time job. UMW should consider a life experience credit option.

As a full-time student, senior and English major Sierra Heiderman started the semester working about 8.5 hours a week for the English department on campus and about 30 hours a week working for the YMCA. She and her coworkers had to create weekly lesson plans that they taught the children before and after school, an ideal job for Heiderman as she is also in the education program. In order to fulfill her experiential learning requirement and gain experience in the English field, Heiderman applied for an English internship and was selected to participate. The internship, however, required five hours a week unpaid. It didn’t seem feasible to add on top of being a full-time student working two jobs.

She decided to quit YMCA, her main source of income. “I had to wake up at 4:30 for the job and it prevented me from being able to stay up late and work on homework.” She continued, “The internship is unpaid unfortunately which does leave me nervous money-wise because now I only have a job that I work eight hours a week at. So that makes me worried. The whole situation has been very stressful.”

The option of life experience credits would provide a solution for students who are unable to support themselves without working outside of school on top of a possibly unpaid internship. The University of Phoenix provides the option of students to write a journal in which they explain what they learned from something they have done that provided life experience. There are a group of topics to choose from, such as communications, interdisciplinary/electives, physical education and more. These topics are then divided further into subjects such as acting, retail principles, parenting, etc.

Providing the possibility for students to receive credit for outside of school experience is incredibly useful for those who don’t have the time or can’t afford to do internships. When asked about this idea for UMW, Heiderman said, “I think UMW should definitely look into implementing something like [life experience credits]. Life experiences are so much more important than people give them credit for and can be just as important or more than an internship.”

Since the general education curriculum is in the process of rolling over into the new curriculum, it would not be expected for this change to be considered for some time. “The question of credits for life experience is a different issue and is something that would have to be carefully evaluated,” said Nicole Crowder, the chair of the General Education Committee.

There is no denying that internships have value. However, it can be nearly impossible for some students during their studies. I believe the committee should begin to consider this as an option for students since general life experience is just as useful as an internship.