For Ananay Arora, this spring has brought good news and bad news.
The good news: The Arizona State University sophomore snagged one of the most prestigious internships in the country. He'll be working with the software engineering team at Apple.
The bad news: Instead of rubbing elbows with Tim Cook at the company's futuristic ring-shaped headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Arora will be working remotely from his off-campus apartment in Tempe, Ariz.. He's an international student from New Delhi, which means he can't go home to his family right now, and pandemic restrictions mean he can't relocate to California.
"They're shipping a Mac and a monitor," he says. "So I'm going to set up my workstation at my apartment. That's the good part about software engineering. It's not ideal, but 100% of it is possible to be done from home."
Summer internships have become a key path to the job market for ambitious college students. The internships are coveted and sometimes controversial, with less privileged students often not being able to afford to take unpaid positions. But this year, with most office buildings emptied out and the economy under severe hardship, will internships be canceled?
Well, Arora teamed up with two Arizona State classmates, Kaan Aksoy and Devyash Lodha, to create a website answering precisely that question: Ismyinternshipcancelled.com. They've crowdsourced information from more than 500 companies so far, big and small, ranging from American Airlines to Walmart to Zillow. The verdict? Just over a third of the internship programs are canceled outright. Most of the rest are moving online for part or all of the summer.
And some companies are even expanding their programs. In fact, the CEO of Cloudflare, an Internet security company, told TechCrunch that he decided to double his incoming class of interns after seeing Arora's website.
Dan Rosensweig is the CEO of Chegg, which runs the site Internships.com. He says he's seeing a "hodgepodge" when it comes to summer opportunities around the country.
"Internships have been canceled at companies of all sizes," Rosensweig says. "Larger companies are doing it remote." His site lists "remote finance," "remote data science" and "remote software" as "hot markets." He adds that outright cancellations seem to be clustered in harder-hit industries such as travel — Airbnb, for example, and airlines.
Rosensweig's company is going for a hybrid approach. It's starting internships remotely but hoping to invite interns back into its offices sometime in mid-July. That will depend on location, of course; Chegg has offices in the Bay Area, Portland, Ore., and New York City.
He notes that, when compared with being able to train students face-to-face, "it'll be harder." But he adds, "We intend to pay them, and we intend to have it because we know how important the internship experience is to the growth of a college student."
It's not only the tech industry that is continuing to support interns through this crisis. Hamilton College, a private college in New York state, is one that has extended the funding it offers for unpaid and underpaid internships to graduating seniors.
Ngoc Ngo, who is taking a few years off before medical school, is taking advantage of that. She's got not one but three projects lined up for the summer: first, an extension of her senior thesis research in genetics; the second is a market research position with CVS Health, and third, research on the microbiome at an Irish university — all three from her home.
The work will be less hands-on and involve more spreadsheets, but she says it's more than she would be doing if she had to commit to a single lab location for the summer. "I feel that I'm so fortunate," she says. "That I'm able to even apply for these positions is truly a privilege."
Another out-of-the-box option for aspiring interns this year is the Virtual Student Federal Service. This program has been around for a decade, offering monthlong remote, and unpaid, assignments with dozens of different federal agencies, from NASA to the Smithsonian Institution.
In recent summers, it has coordinated about 1,200 interns, says Nora Dempsey, who runs the program. "Because [of the] coronavirus, our phones and our email boxes are brimming with interest by folks we've never heard from before," she says, "agencies with long, complicated names coming to us for the first time saying, 'How do you work virtually? I hear you've been working virtually for 10 years. And can we join in and how can we do this?' "
Dempsey says the program has created 184 new slots in the past couple of weeks. And applications for students are still open now.
Remote internships, of course, aren't possible in every sector — think of retail or construction. The experts I spoke with say online internships work best when they're project-based, allowing interns to complete assignments on their own time. Mentors should be assigned to work closely with each intern to make sure they don't get lost in the shuffle.
Arora is trying to build community among his fellow interns. He helped start up a series of group chats that now has hundreds of incoming Apple interns on it. "We're hosting things like Zoom socials just to meet with each other. Asking some questions of previous interns," he says. "So it's a fun time, meeting other people."
Still, he says he's sad he's missing out on the networking and camaraderie of working at Apple's headquarters. "If the internship was in person, it would have been much better because, you know, you get to make these connections," he says. "You get to meet new people. You have people walking by who are seeing how you're working. And so it's a totally different experience."