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 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 five, 10 years has opened up this huge market."
Andrew Topel's parents paid $8,000 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 his father, Avrim Topel, "without having a friend or knowing somebody with a personal contact." Andrew completed the internship in July and was invited to return for another summer or to interview for a job after graduation.
His parents used a company called University of Dreams, the largest player in an industry that has boomed in recent years as internship experience has become a near-necessity on any competitive entry-level resume.
The company 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 says it placed 1,600 interns in 13 cities this year, charging up to $9,450 for a program in London and as little as $5,499 in Costa Rica.
Officials at the company say they are able to wrangle hard-to-get internships for their clients because they have developed working relationships with a variety of employers.
Employers say the middlemen save them time and hassle. "They make the search process a lot easier," said Sarah Cirkiel, the chief executive of Pitch Control Public Relations, a New York firm that has taken in 20 interns from the University of Dreams.
But many educators and students argue that the programs create a gulf between students who have parents willing and able to buy their children better job prospects, and those who do not. "You're going to increase that divide early, on families that understand that investment process and will pay and the families that don't," said Anthony Antonio, a professor of education at Stanford University."