I recently wrote a blog post highlighting the three subtopics that play a role in the overall success of a participant in an internship. In this post, I concentrated on three crucial subtopics: the type of institution, enrollment status, and the chosen academic program. Discussing the barriers and struggles these three subtopics offer allows for a “behind-the-scenes” view of what students and internship seekers have to endure in order to obtain an internship. Towards the conclusion of my post, I introduced a fourth, pivotal subtopic that influences the internship acquisition process: race. In this blog post, we will delve into the profound impact and significance of race in the context of obtaining internships.

When discussing internships, you have to take into account the many factors that play into getting the internship. Obtaining an internship is a unique experience for each individual, influenced by a variety of circumstances. Research has consistently shown that race plays a crucial role in obtaining internships for individuals. Historically, we find that racial disparities have acted as a barrier for some, significantly limiting underrepresented groups’ access to work-integrated learning opportunities. Furthermore, those involved in the selection and hiring processes can increase these disparities through discriminatory practices, further restricting access for certain racial groups.

 A recent study identified race as one of the big factors that played a role in securing an internship. Results in this specific study showed that, when testing “characteristics of students participating in internships,” internship participation significantly varied by race (Hora et al. 2020). More specifically, these results showed that participation in internships are not universal and not equitable across all students, and instead vary on range of demographic, academic, and life/employment situations and characteristics (Hora et al. 2020).

Another study, which was conducted by Savannah State University and the Skidaway Institution of Oceanography, examined the participation of black students attending HBCUs. However, this specific study did not include how the issue of race may have played a role in the students’ internship experiences and outcomes (Hora, Forbes, and Preston 2020). Studies like this are helpful to some; however, when it comes to the topic of race, it is unhelpful. There are a lot of studies on students’ experiences with internships that do not include what role race played, this study being an example of that.

On the flip side, the studies that do not include race, and the role race plays, have offered some beneficial results. One study discusses how white students are more likely to complete internships than black students. This finding contributes to the idea that there is a lack of encouragement about the internship process, a lack of site information, and some other potential factors for African Americans (Hora, Forbes, and Preston 2020). This is not something that only goes for internships, as these kinds of results have been seen in post-college employment rates as well.

Something notable to acknowledge here is the underpreparedness white people feel in the internship/employment world. A study conducted in 1995 by Mintz and colleagues shows that white interns felt “unprepared for how to interact with and counsel clients of color, and that issues related to race and culture were not covered in the core curriculum” (Hora, Forbes, and Preston 2020). The lack of preparation here is what is causing this discrimination and representation among people of color. This is not to say that this is the sole reason for the results being found related to race and internship experience, however, I do feel as though this is one reason to offer.

It is very obvious to me that work still needs to be done. If we are still finding results telling us that people of color are not having the same, appropriate experiences as white people, then we know we have to keep working. So the questions I am choosing to end this blog post with is, what can be done? What can we do? How can we make things better for everyone, especially those who feel underrepresented in the work-integrated learning world? It is important to recognize that progress has been made and people are working to build a better system. However it has not been enough just yet. Addressing these differences requires efforts from everyone, especially employers, educational institutions, policymakers, and individuals, to make sure that opportunities are accessible to everyone, regardless of their racial background.


Hora, Matthew, Zi Chen, Emily Parrott, and Pa Her, P. 2020. “Problematizing College Internships: Exploring Issues with Access, Program Design and Developmental Outcomes. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning 21 (3): 235-252. https://www.ijwil.org/files/IJWIL_21_3_235_252.pdf.

Hora, Matthew, Jacqueline Forbes, Deshawn Preston. 2020. “What Do We Know about Internships at the HBCUs? A Review of the Literature and Agenda for Future Research.”Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, Research Brief #13. Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://ccwt.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/ccwt_report_What-do-we-know-about-internships-at-HBCUs.pdf.

Annelise Weaver is a 2022-2025 CEL Student Scholar. She is collaborating with participants in the 2022-2024 research seminar on work-integrated learning. Learn more about the current student scholars.

How to Cite this Post

Weaver, Annelise. 2023. “Identifying Factors that Influence WIL Participants.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. October 17, 2023. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/identifying-factors-that-influence-wil-participants.