Dec 232010
 
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With paying jobs so hard to get in this weak market, a lot of college graduates would gladly settle for a nonpaying internship. But even then, they are competing with laid-off employees with far more experience.

So growing numbers of new graduates — or, more often, their parents — are paying thousands of dollars to services that help them land internships.

Call these unpaid internships that you pay for.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said David Gaston, director of the University of Kansas career center. “The demand for internships in the past 5, 10 years has opened up this huge market. At this point, all we can do is teach students to understand that they’re paying and to ask the right questions.”

Not that the parents are complaining. Andrew Topel’s parents paid $8,000 this year to a service that helped their son, a junior at the University of Tampa, get a summer job as an assistant at Ford Models, a top agency in New York.

“It would’ve been awfully difficult” to get a job like that, said Andrew’s father, Avrim Topel, “without having a friend or knowing somebody with a personal contact.” Andrew completed the eight-week internship in July and was invited to return for another summer or to interview for a job after graduation.

Andrew’s parents used a company called the University of Dreams, the largest and most visible player in an industry that has boomed in recent years as internship experience has become a near-necessity on any competitive entry-level résumé.

The company says it saw a spike in interest this year due to the downturn, as the number of applicants surged above 9,000, 30 percent higher than in 2008. And unlike prior years, the company says, a significant number of its clients were recent graduates, rather than the usual college juniors.

The program advertises a guaranteed internship placement, eight weeks of summer housing, five meals a week, seminars and tours around New York City for $7,999. It has a full-time staff of 45, and says it placed 1,600 student interns in 13 cities around the world this year, charging up to $9,450 for a program in London and as little as $5,499 in Costa Rica.

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