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Many Harvard College students opened their emails Sunday in hopes of learning whether they had been accepted to the Harvard Institute of Politics’ competitive Director’s Internship program.
Instead, a number of the program’s applicants have yet to hear back even after the program’s stated decision deadline, student leaders said, while some who have been accepted are unsure if they can afford their summer expenses through the program’s stipend.
“As the executive team, we have received many messages from students concerned about the confusion, lack of communication, and inconsistencies with this year’s Director’s Internship rollout,” IOP President Amen H. Gashaw ’24 said in an interview Monday.
“All host decisions will be shared with students before April 16, 2023,” the Director’s Internship application website reads in bold.
The IOP Director’s Internship is a 10-week summer program that matches more than 200 students with internships in politics, government, and public service. Interns work 35 to 40 hours per week in an unpaid role and receive a stipend of $5,000 — or $5,500 in high-cost areas — from the IOP.
During the pandemic, U.S. inflation rates reached levels not seen since in decades. Still, the Director’s Internship stipend has remained at its pre-pandemic base sum, even after IOP student leadership and internship hopefuls have raised concerns with IOP Director Setti D. Warren.
“We recognize that rising prices have made cost of living difficult to sustain for many students, especially in cities where public service positions are concentrated, including DC and NY,” Gashaw wrote in a statement Thursday.
Warren reaffirmed his commitment to exploring options to meet the financial needs of students in an April 6 statement to The Crimson.
“I am committed to changes necessary to ease financial burden and increase opportunity and I welcome conversations with student leaders to continually reevaluate and strengthen the program,” Warren wrote.
“Making these summer internship opportunities accessible, regardless of financial circumstance, is core to the impact of this program. We strive to support as many students as possible with robust funding both through the Director's Internship and the Summer Stipend programs,” he added.
On Wednesday, four days before the Director’s Internship deadline, the IOP announced students would be able to apply for up to an additional $1,000 of funding through the Priscilla Chan Summer Service Stipend if they are on need-based financial aid from the College.
IOP Vice President Pratyush Mallick ’25 raised concerns about the short turnaround between this announcement and the stipend’s Sunday application deadline. Mallick noted that the application required a 750-word statement.
“It came so late, and it required an additional application. That was the tough part,” Mallick said in an interview. “What I wish had happened is we could have transferred applications to whoever reviews Priscilla Chan and then gone through the supplementary funding process.”
As summer approaches, Gashaw said many Director’s Internship applicants remain confused about their internship prospects, which she attributed to disorganization within the internship program.
Throughout the application period, the Director’s Internship program has repeatedly pushed back application deadlines for internships. Thirteen of the program’s internships now feature Wednesday application deadlines, three days after the program’s stated Sunday decision deadline.
The Director’s Internship program has run three rounds of applications this semester in addition to these extensions. According to three IOP student leaders, the changes to the application timeline were unplanned but were the result of a lack of coordination and clear deadlines between the IOP and organizations hosting summer interns.
Gashaw said the program should prioritize greater transparency and accessibility to applicants.
“I think one thing we want to account for moving forward is that any supplement opportunities we offer are available to every single applicant,” Gashaw said.
Among prospective IOP Director’s interns, some remain unsure how they will afford the costs associated with their internship even with the stipend.
“The $5,500 stipend is definitely not enough to live in such an expensive city,” said Nghia L. Nguyen ’26, who will be based in London as part of the program.
Adelaide E. Parker ’26, a student seeking to participate in the program, said the current stipend fails to cover the costs of housing and groceries in light of inflation-caused price increases.
“I definitely don’t think that the stipend is enough to cover expenses, especially if you’re living in D.C., which is where most of these jobs are,” Parker said.
Interns are expected to work 35 to 40 hours per week for 10 weeks, in some cases putting the $5,500 stipend below equivalent compensation under the minimum wage in cities like New York, where 40 hours of work per week across 10 weeks would net a minimum of $6,000.
“If I end up doing a Director’s Internship job, I definitely will have to either do tutoring work on the side or contribute some of my own money to housing,” Parker said.
In an interview, IOP Treasurer Carter G. Demaray ’25 said Director’s Internship funding is “an issue,” adding that he hopes the IOP will meet the “good standard” set by the Phillips Brooks House Association, which offers a $6,000 fellowship stipend.
“Our team is united in striving to better support students in public service internships, and doing so is the very reason the Director’s Internship program exists,” Gashaw said, referencing the IOP Student Advisory Committee’s efforts.
Two IOP student leaders indicated that the stipend will likely not increase this summer, but they said discussions with Warren remain ongoing.
Nguyen said overall, he is still relieved that the Director’s Internship offers a stipend.
“A stipend helps if I get the job because many internships in the political world are so unfortunately unpaid,” Nguyen said.
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