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From Facebook to the State Department, how coronavirus has changed summer internships

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The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been widespread, leaving an unprecedented 26.4 million Americans out of work. For young people, including students gearing up for summer internships and soon-to-be college graduates, professional prospects have been disproportionately affected. 

Edwin Koc, director of research, public policy and legislative affairs for the National Association of Colleges and Employers tells CNBC Make It that according to internal research, only 2% of employers have reported revoking full-time offers made to candidates, but about 16% of employers have reported revoking internship offers. 

Many internships have been changed, he says, by being canceled, postponed or moved online. 

"Of the employers that are continuing with their internships, 75% have made at least one change to their internship program," says Koc. "About 40% of them are introducing a virtual internship, another 40% are shortening the internship by delaying the start date of the internship and about 20% are reducing the number of interns they're going to bring on board in the summer." 

CNBC Make It spoke with students to see how they have been impacted and how they plan to take on a post-pandemic labor market: 

Bank of America's New York City corporate headquarters
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The lucky few

Deborah Ludman, a junior majoring in organization and management at Gettysburg College says she "got really lucky." Her internship as a summer analyst with Bank of America has not been canceled. She received an email in which the bank reassured interns that their program would still happen and that they would still be paid for the full summer.

"I'm pleased to confirm no delays, changes in pay or class size for us," a Bank of America spokesperson tells CNBC Make It over email. "We've committed to hiring more than 3,000 teammates through our summer internship and campus recruitment programs – so in June, more than 2,000 summer interns will join us for 10 weeks (in key locations around the world); and in July, more than 1,000 full-time campus hires (global), will join the company."

Ludman says the bank is also surveying interns to confirm that they all have access to necessary technology (a computer, internet access, etc.), in case interns will need to work remotely — a decision that the company is still monitoring. 

"I'm super happy. I know some people working in smaller banks who have had their programs canceled," Ludman tells CNBC Make It. "And even though a lot of people my age work to make money, we also work to get the experience we need because we're graduating in a year. So having an internship experience in the field we want to be in is very important as well. The fact that some people won't have that opportunity really sucks."

As Koc puts it, "Internships are often a sort of a probationary period for students that might get full-time jobs and employers predominantly use internship programs as part of their full-time recruiting process."

Halting internship programs put this pipeline, and the future of many young people, in jeopardy. 

Citi made waves when it announced plans to offer all of the organization's 2020 summer interns in New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo who complete the program a full-time offer upon graduation.

"We know that it is an especially trying time for you right now, as you work to finish the semester away from school, removed from your friends and on-campus experiences, and think about the economy and job market you'll find yourself in after graduation," said Courtney Storz, Citi's head of campus talent acquisition in an email to summer interns. "We realize your college experience is going to be quite different than what you planned or imagined. While there are many uncertainties ahead for all of us, we hope that these changes give you a measure of reassurance about your role at Citi and our commitment to you."

Ludman says this reassurance is a significant perk for Citi's interns. "I don't know if the other big banks are going to follow that, but if they do, that would be super exciting for the interns," she says. 

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Virtual internships

But just because internships like Ludman's are continuing, doesn't mean they will all be continued in person. Many organizations are deciding, or have decided, to hold their internships online. 

One of those organizations is professional services company PwC, which has also committed to hiring its 2020 college senior interns. It was among many policy changes the organization made to its program on April 1st. 

"We felt compelled to get an answer to the interns as soon as possible because we knew they had to plan for their summer and were all dealing with so much uncertainty," Rod Adams, U.S. recruitment leader for PwC, tells CNBC Make It.

The organization's traditional 10-week internship program of nearly 2,800 undergraduate summer interns has been shortened to a two-week paid virtual internship, and the organization's eight-week "Start" diversity internship program of roughly 600 college sophomores and juniors from traditionally underrepresented minority groups has been shortened to a four-week paid virtual internship. 

Adams says the two things that keep him up at night are making sure PwC's hiring pipeline remains in place for the years after the pandemic subsides — "we're still going to be hiring," he says — as well as creating a whole new high-tech internship program in a matter of weeks. 

"We're so used to having an internship program that we tweak and make better every year and now we've got to create a two-week experience from scratch," says Adams. 

PwC is not the only organization moving their internships online. 

"Given the continuing health and safety issues posed by COVID-19, Facebook will be moving our Summer 2020 internship program to a virtual format. We look forward to welcoming our interns to Facebook," says Miranda Kalinowski, vice president of global recruiting at Facebook in a statement sent to CNBC Make It.

Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan are also among the companies that have announced that their internships will be held virtually. 

The U.S. Department of State building is seen in Washington, D.C., on July 22, 2019.
Alastair Pike| AFP via Getty Images

Canceled internships and limited communication

However, relatively few have the comfort of knowing they have a job waiting for them after graduation like Citi or PwC's interns. Many more have had their internships canceled entirely. 

That's the case for Daniella Faura, a junior economics and international relations double major at Tufts University. 

Faura applied for an unpaid internship working with the western hemisphere affairs desk at the U.S. State Department in September. She learned she got the position in November (pending a routine background check) and applied for a fellowship through the Council of American Ambassadors that would give her housing and mentorship. 

Last week, she learned that her fellowship had been canceled but was holding out hope her internship would continue. 

"On Friday the 17th of April, I got an email from the Tufts University career center giving their condolences and apologies that my internship was canceled, but I never got an email directly from the State Department saying it was canceled," Faura said on April 20. "They haven't been the most responsive, which is understandable."

A spokesperson for the State Department confirmed to CNBC Make It that the organization has canceled its unpaid student internship program, noting that the size and nature of the program made it impossible to be deferred or conducted virtually. 

Faura says she had braced herself for disappointing news but was still surprised. 

"I had a feeling it was going to get canceled. I think we all try to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario, but you never really know how you're gonna react until it actually happens. I thought I was going to be fine when I got the email because I've been hearing a lot of stories of people getting their internships canceled," she says. "But I was a lot sadder than I thought I was going to be because one of my main worries is that an internship right before your senior year is usually really important for job prospects when you graduate."

On April 23, Faura says she received an email from the State Department indicating her internship had been canceled. 

Instead of interning in Washington, D.C. this summer, Faura will be home with her family in La Verne, California. She says she is applying for jobs stocking shelves at local supermarkets and is considering studying for graduate school entrance exams like the GMAT or the GRE. 

Gabrielle Alias delivers food part-time for Caviar.
Courtesy of Gabrielle Alias

Dreams delayed

Some have had their internships postponed, rather than canceled. 

Gabrielle Alias is a senior at Babson College, an entrepreneurship-focused school where all graduates receive a bachelor of science in business. Alias has completed all of her requirements and is set to graduate in May, so rather than take a final semester online she chose to withdraw from her last few classes to save money and work. 

"I had an internship lined up to go to London in June to work at a music publishing company, which is literally my dream job, in London, which is my favorite city in the world," she tells CNBC Make It. "That was postponed until October but thank God it never got canceled."

Alias explains that beyond the professional and financial aspects of internships they also hold very real cultural significance among her peers.  

"Internships are very, very valuable at Babson. It's something of a prideful thing. If you work at a big consulting company or if you work at a top-four accounting firm, or even working at a startup in Silicon Valley, those give you brownie points, whether you're a freshman or whether you're a senior," she explains. "So a lot of people are kind of losing their identities, trying to figure out what their family thinks of them and what even the school might think of them."

For this reason, Alias considers herself "lucky," and in the meantime, she is living at home in San Francisco and delivering food for Caviar part-time. 

The pay "is not as much as I was hoping for," she says. "But it's the little bit of help that I can do right now. It's just me and my mom and I take precautions to make sure she doesn't get sick... if I can help someone else not have to leave their house, then that's fine with me."

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