As we are almost halfway through the spring semester, many students are now beginning to grow worried about summer.
No, it’s not because of those bothersome mosquitoes, that soaring heat wave or those extra pounds to shed for that sexy bikini. It’s because they are struggling to find an internship — and, more so, a paid one.
“While a lot of my friends have taken unpaid internships in the summer to boost their résumés, I can’t afford to do that. With each internship experience of theirs, I notice the increasing gap between them and me,” said Siyu Fan, a sophomore majoring in communication. “They are able to afford experiences that I cannot at this point, and these experiences definitely serve as bonuses for their future job searches.”
Many undergraduate students fight to balance the rigors of college with the need to earn an adequate amount of money to fund their college tuition and everyday expenses. Their plight thereby forces them to question the fairness of unpaid internships.
This, however, is not the only area of concern. Some employers ask that students receive college credit as a form of “compensation” for their work in order to evade paying them; a requirement that clearly puts students of low economic status at a disadvantage. It means that students have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tuition for that course. Essentially, they are paying instead of being paid for their work as an intern.
With dozens of employers on campus this week in light of Internship Week, hundreds of eager Trojans are flocking to the Student Union Building just to throw in their résumés.
Along with benefiting students, Internship Week aids businesses in their search for bright and talented individuals who have the potential to become full-time hires. At least, it is supposed to do that. How can companies hire the best and most intelligent students when having unpaid internship programs expels almost half of the potential applicant pool?
According to InternBridge.com, a company that conducts the largest internship-focused research in the country, 18 percent of more than 42,000 student interns surveyed did not receive pay or college credit, a major violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Of those that received college credit for their internship, 71 percent had to pay for the credits themselves.
While some businesses simply cannot afford to pay their interns, many can yet don’t because of a steady, high demand for internship experience. “There’s a constant supply of students willing to work for free,” said Richard Bottner, president of InternBridge.com, “and this is part of the problem.”
Yet, a study conducted by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) revealed that paid interns report having a more positive overall experience at their internship than unpaid interns. Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for NACE said, “Students who express dissatisfaction with the internship program felt like they had been exploited because they hadn’t been paid, and not being paid frequently coincided with being given what they referred to as ‘not meaningful work.’”
There is no doubt that internships are valuable, especially in trying to get a leg up on the competition in this economy. But next time, think twice when employers tell you that their internships are unpaid. Is their only goal to find the best and brightest students across USC?
I don’t think so.
Amrita Parekh is a sophomore majoring in communication and psychology.