As the end of the semester nears, summer internships are on every student’s mind. For juniors, this is their last summer to participate in internships before graduation. Juniors have one more summer to get meaningful resume-worthy experiences. Some seniors are also considering summer internships. Before attending graduate school in the fall, many graduates will participate in summer internships to gain experience and save up money. Even freshmen and sophomores are looking for summer internships. However, there is one tiny detail that can severely impact college students: unpaid internships.
Regardless of whether an internship is paid or not, it can be invaluable to securing a future position within a company. Both paid and unpaid internships can lead to a full-time position in a company, and if they don’t, they look great on resumes and provide an unique experience to discuss in future interviews. But, the professional benefits of summer internships have never been in question.
The issue on the table is a financial one. Is it reasonable to have an unpaid internship? Some will argue that even without a salary, internships are crucial to landing a job in your future field, but the main obstacle to unpaid internships is having the funds to make it possible. Without a stipend or housing, an internship may not be feasible. Rent is not cheap, and without money for groceries or gas, an internship becomes out of reach for many lower-income students.
Scholarships are an option, of course. Berry offers a few scholarships that provide funds for academic internships. The caveat here is that the internship must be completed for credit. This then requires paying tuition, and the cost drastically increases. Some scholarships provided through Berry also have specific guidelines like completing an unpaid internship with a nonprofit or service organization. The reality is that scholarships can be beneficial and help a student secure an unpaid internship, but there are a limited number of scholarships available. Without the scholarship, the internship may, once again, just not be possible.
According to the Department of Labor, for a company to have an unpaid intern, the internship must benefit the intern more than the employer. Other factors, like completing an academic internship for credit, or if an internship accommodates an academic calendar, play into the unpaid aspect of an internship. There are seven total factors that determine whether an unpaid internship is legal and none are solely used to make that determination.
While the law states that unpaid internships are legal under certain circumstances, it ignores the humanity in the situation. Interns are treated worse than other employees in many companies while they complete work on an equal level.
Many students and recent college graduates view internships as necessary for their future. Companies are using this perspective of necessity to exploit interns out of compensation. Interns are completing the internship for the opportunity and experience. They are participating because they want to be there. Foregoing compensation simply because the law does not require it is not fair.
Interns should be compensated for their work. They are just as much of an employee as everyone else at their workplace. Despite the shorter duration of employment, interns are valuable. They bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to a workplace. With their youthful energy and passion for the field, they can change the climate of an office.
Recognize an intern’s usefulness and compensate them for their work. College students spend tens of thousands of dollars on a college education only to have to participate in unpaid internships where their college education is not acknowledged.