By Elexis Baltimore, Editor
Although internships have been an ongoing opportunity for students to gain first-hand experience, the issues regarding pay have become discussed more often in recent years. The stigma regarding internships has for years leaned towards the issue (and fear) of running errands and getting cups of coffee for your new bosses and, in the end, being no more qualified for that industry than when you began. As the access to education becomes more available, employers have started looking for ways to distinguish between the “go-getter” and the “just get it done” candidates. So how do they do this? According to a survey by The Chronicle of Higher Ed, when evaluating college graduates internships and employment are two of the highest-ranking qualities employers are looking for.
So what is it that has students all riled up about internships? Is it still the fear that we will all be lost in a sea of coffee and resurface at the end with absolutely no experience? Is it that the cost of tuition and living is so high that accepting an unpaid position takes away from the hours we spend at the jobs that pay our bills? Are some students just lazy and want to get paid to do nothing? Yes, yes and yes.
When learning I would need to do an internship this year, I was afraid that I would dedicate 135 hours to an organization and learn nothing. Thankfully, I was paired with an organization that threw me in head first and helped me gain a considerable amount of knowledge and experience I probably would not have gained elsewhere. For students with the luxury of either not having to pay bills or have tuition that is paid for, it is not a hard decision to choose an internship that may pay a whole lot of nothing. However, for students that already pull 30+ hours a week at a job to make ends meet, it can be difficult and almost impossible to find a way to fit an internship into an already packed schedule. For me, a student that also has a job on-campus and a full-time job off-campus, it was almost impossible to find the time to dedicate to an internship without lowering my work hours and losing the ability to pay class, my car, rent, etc.
What You Need To Know
The Fair Labor Standards Act has 6 criteria which define the difference between an employee and an intern. This is used to help distinguish whether the intern’s position in the for-profit sector requires pay or not, regardless of college credit given. The only exception is non-profit organizations.
These criteria revolve around the idea that if an intern is contributing to the revenue of the business or replacing a position, they need to be paid. Basically, the entire premise of an internship, especially an unpaid one, is that the student will gain knowledge, guidance, and experience in navigating a specific field.
So What Happens Now
This is all up to you! I have seen (and experienced) a shift towards interns actually being given good opportunities to gain skills and experience that will set them apart from the “pack,” while also building connections. For those who are worried about the financial stability, you can either attempt to work out a schedule with an unpaid internship that will not conflict with your paid work, attempt to find an internship which will pay you a little money and give you the ability to take on less hours at your regular job, or even look for scholarships that help assist students with offsetting some of the costs.