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Internships Becoming So Competitive That Students Paying Thousands for Placement

So you want a summer internship? It may cost you.

Paying thousands of dollars for an internship opportunity might sound crazy, but the sluggish economy and fierce competition for positions has made pay-for-placement programs more popular than ever.

A company called the University of Dreams offers guaranteed internship opportunities for those willing to pay anywhere from $5,499 to $9,499. The company has received a record number of applications this year and expects to place about 1,500 interns in major cities around the world.

In addition to internship placement, the University of Dreams also provides interns with housing, weekend activities, meals, transportation, career seminars, resume revision and interview coaching.

These internships are legitimate, some career services experts say.

"There has to be some money that a student fronts in order to have the experience, but I do know enough about it to know that the experiences are of high quality," said Jeff Rice, the executive director of Career Services at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

Despite the quality of internships offered, this pay-for-placement concept is controversial on college campuses. Some students think that programs like the University of Dreams give wealthier students an unfair advantage, especially in light of the dismal job market.

"It's just not financially feasible," said Amy Augustine, a student at Ohio State. "I would never enter into a program that would keep me for three months, that would not pay me and that I would actually have to pay for."

There are also complaints that those who enroll in placement programs aren't necessarily the most qualified for the job.

Along with other placement companies like the Washington Internship Program and CharityFolks, the University of Dreams has caught some steam in recent months. However, students who have taken advantage of the program defend its expensive price tag.

"I definitely don't see the University of Dreams as an easy way out, because there are a lot of procedures that you have to go through," said Lisa Liao, who interned with United Colors of Benetton in San Francisco. "You still have to apply, do resume workshops and interview."

Katherine Pierce, an Ohio State student who interned for a fashion company in London, said, "To have the housing, to have the food, to have the transportation and to have all the networking — that's really what you are paying for."

Regardless of their approach, Rice said that in this economy, students should focus on getting a good experience.

"I think what students should focus on right now is build resume," Rice said. "Perhaps a year or two from now, that resume builder will turn into a full-time job where you can make money."

Shelby Holliday is a Palestra.net student reporter at Ohio State University.