"One Internship, Two Internships, Three Internships…More!" Exploring the Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Factors of the Multiple Internship Economy

WCER Working Paper No. 2020-11

Matthew Wolfgram, Vivien Ahrens, and Zhixuan Wu


December 2020, 25 pp.

ABSTRACT: Internships are increasingly promoted as a high-impact practice to improve students’ post-graduation employment outcomes, and educators and advisors often encourage students to participate in multiple internships. Yet, there is a lack of research on the socioeconomic and sociocultural factors associated with multiple internship participation for college students. We present findings about such demographic and contextual factors of multiple internship participation—drawing on survey responses, focus groups, and one-year follow-up interviews with students at five postsecondary institutions in the United States, along with interviews with educators and advisors at those institutions and an analysis of online documents about multiple internship participation. Analyses of survey data indicate the socioeconomic privileges associated with multiple internship participation; qualitative data document a particular culture of the multiple internship economy, representing multiple internships as a progressive accumulation of value. Based on these findings, we develop a sociocultural theory of multiple internship participation as a project of neoliberal gatekeeping navigation.

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keywords: Multiple internships, gatekeeping, neoliberal concept of self