For many students, an internship is part of the college experience. In fact, some universities even require each and every student to participate in an internship before he or she graduates.
According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, over 55 percent of 2012 college graduates “took part in an internship or co-op at some point during their college career,” up from 52 percent of the class of 2011. NACE surveyed approximately 48,000 college students graduating in 2012 from across the U.S.
NACE also found that the majority of students – 62 percent – would accept an offer of paid employment from their internship employers.
In order to compete with other applicants, having experience as an intern is considered highly important. “It is extremely important that students of all majors complete an internship to be competitive in a global economy,” says Amy Thul, assistant director of alumni career services at Penn State University.
Gabrielle Dallazia, a fourth year English education major at West Chester University who recently attended an interview for an internship with West Chester based magazine The WC Press, raises a great point. “As a BSED major, the internship will open doors for me after I graduate and not limit my career opportunities,” she says. “It would provide me with real-life experience in the publishing field.”
Some internship experiences offer students college credit; however, that is the most compensation that some students will receive. In the same survey of 2012 college graduates, NACE found that 47 percent of students’ internship experiences were unpaid; and “nearly one-third of internships in the for-profit sector were unpaid.”
In order for unpaid internships to be considered legal, there are various factors that must be met. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the criteria includes the stipulation that interns “do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation.” Other factors that the WHD mentions include: training must resemble that of a vocational school or academic instruction, training must be “for the benefit of the trainee,” the intern must not provide the employer with an “immediate advantage” from his or her activities, trainees are not entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship, and all parties must understand that the intern is not entitled to monetary compensation.
Students’ biggest concern about working for free as an intern is obvious: How are you supposed to pay for rent, bills, and groceries? This is especially a challenge when accepting an internship miles away, perhaps even across state borders. On top of putting in hours at their internship, many students need to hunt for a job that provides income as well.
However, as Dallazia pointed out, internships can provide students with opportunities they previously may not have had. Students who feel limited by their degrees may find other “doors opening” to them because of their internships.
“Employers are looking for students that have field work experience and can transfer the skills learned during internships into their future company or organization,” says Thul.
Julia Zakrzewski is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at JZ727170@wcupa.edu.