The pay-off of no pay


For many students, working 40 plus hours a week during summer break — with no paycheck — seems like a nightmare. While it may not come across as the ideal situation, summer internships free of charge still offer great benefits, even if they do not translate into cash. When you think about it, the job title of intern was essentially created for college students to gain experience and dip their toes into industries of interest. With this in mind, we should be thankful that companies offer opportunities for students to learn, grow, and gain real-world experience. Summer internships provide students a chance to experience the post-college world and any form of a paycheck or credit should be considered a bonus.

The key here is to pay attention to whether your work tasks follow the guidelines for an intern or if you are being used, free of charge. According to The Fair Labor Standards Act from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage, an intern must meet six standards to qualify for unpaid work.

First, the internship in question must have similar training to what would be given in an educational environment. To me, this is the most important requirement as it summarizes the true value of an unpaid internship. If your job as an intern consists solely of getting coffee and running an absurd amount of errands for your employers, then it  may not be worth your summer. However, if you are in a position to learn and grow from the people around you and possibly even form a mentor relationship with a boss or coworker, then it may be worth sticking around. While the payoff may not be an immediate, tangible paycheck, these relationships may grow into something far more beneficial and worth more than an hourly wage.

Secondly, the internship experience must be for the benefit of the intern. While most companies love the help of young and eager interns, overall, the intern must be be receiving the greater benefit out of the experience. There is even benefit from realizing that this specific field of interest is not for you, or maybe the work is different than what you thought it would be. Part of an internship is exploring what is out there, what works for you, and what does not.

Following these two guidelines, an intern is not allowed to replace a regular employee, employers may not receive immediate advantage from activities of the intern, and the intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship. These three criteria guide what an intern can and cannot do for employers. In short, interns are not in the workplace to be a servant to the employers. Interns are taken on by a company mostly for the benefit of the intern by providing learning opportunities. While the company will benefit from an extra set of hands, overall, the intern should receive the greatest benefit.

Finally, the employer and intern must both understand that the intern is not entitled to wages. It must be mutually understood that the intern is not hired for pay.

Sophomore Blake Springer shares why she believes students should be paid for their summer internships.

“I think internships should be paid because ultimately you are contributing to the company and dedicating time to the internship,” Springer said. “You could be making money elsewhere but instead you are choosing to work for that company. Even if it doesn’t pay as much as a part time job, there should be a reward for choosing to jump start your career path over taking just another summer job or something.”

If any of these standards are not met for an internship, it is understandable to want payment for your time in the office. With this being said, for those lucky enough to find a paid internship, enjoy it.

For those who feel that they are getting ripped off by a company for free work over the summer, try changing your perspective.

Yes, it may be frustrating, but at the end of the day the internship may be a great learning experience with so many benefits that exceed a number on a check.