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Unpaid Internships? No Such Thing

College students who serve as interns in order to train for their desired professions and receive only college credit—or sometimes just the experience—in return are getting a fair trade-off. Pro or con?

Pro: Supply and Demand

Whether it’s a role as Nellie Forbush in a community theater production of South Pacific or a six-week college internship as a production assistant at a local TV network, people old and young have always been more than willing to take unsalaried work to do something a bit glamorous that they enjoy.

Hence, media outlets like magazines and TV shows, and sports enterprises, don’t always have to offer money to clinch the most promising student to fill their internships. The number of applicants far exceeds the number of spots available, so “employers” can choose highly talented students who require no remuneration.

No monetary remuneration, that is. In return for double-checking facts and figures on the Internet or taking on a research project about the average square footage of trade show booths in Cincinnati, a college intern at a travel-industry news publication learns what it takes to be an editor.

She also will likely get the opportunity to write short articles under her byline—writing samples she can show to prospective employers when she graduates and applies for a salaried editorial assistant job at a big-name consumer travel magazine.

“As long as the intern gets what is promised, it doesn’t violate any ethical principle,” says Bruce Weinstein, who is known as the Ethics Guy and writes’s Ethics column.

Likewise, no one forces these kids to pursue internships. They’re generally not a graduation requirement. “These students must perceive some value in these internships,” says Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. “Otherwise, they would work at Starbuck’s (SBUX) for $10 an hour.”

So what if they have to do some work unrelated to their desired fields—like making coffee or covering the lunch shift at the reception desk? “We all do some tasks at work that aren’t directly related to our careers,” Brook says. Indeed, no one becomes a lawyer because it’s fun to tote around a 20-pound briefcase or fill out expense reports, but it’s all part of the job in a chosen field.

Con: Exploitation, Plain and Simple

Investment banks pay their interns up to $10,000 for the summer, and top law firms give theirs as much as $3,000 a week. So why can’t a major sports franchise fork over minimum wage to its interns, who may very well end up spending much of their tenure as ticket-counter cashiers? That hardly qualifies as glamour.

And what about the 18-year-old who lives at home while struggling to scrape up tuition money? He may be a budding David Letterman, but if he doesn’t have the cash to pay New York City rent and transportation costs, he can’t accept an unpaid internship with network TV that could make his résumé golden.

Entertainment and sports enterprises give their stars millions, but don’t pay anything to a college kid who does anything she’s asked, including unloading the office kitchen’s dishwasher and being a gofer.

But there’s no shortage of applicants, because ostensibly glitzy industries know there will always be a surplus of willing—make that desperate—kids to take advantage of.

And it’s not just sports and media that stiff kids. Marketing, public relations, and other types of firms, especially small ones, have been known to do the same.

“Students want to have at least one internship on their résumés,” says Lee Svete, director of the career center at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business undergraduate program. “We’re seeing more and more freshmen wanting internships because they know it will help their careers. So if you’re a junior and have never had an internship, you might have to sacrifice some money.”

To help those who can’t afford unpaid internships, Mendoza is generously giving financial aid so they can get valuable experience without hardship. It’s an act of kindness indeed, but in essence adds up to higher learning funding industry. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek,, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments


I would agree with the idea that as long as the interns know exactly what their internship entails, what they would be doing and that they wouldn't be paid for it, unpaid internship is all right. I did unpaid internship work and got plenty of experience that helped me land a job in the past and which I still use to my monetary advantage.

But if you've been promised that you're going to tour around with bands, take pictures, and help write captions when interning at a music magazine but end up only making coffee, organizing files, and being a receptionist, that's bait and switch exploitation that should be reported as a black mark on the employer's record in a public forum.


The use of unpaid interns is fair in theory, but in practice is often just exploitation. Right out of college I took an internship at a respected local magazine for no pay. I was aware that the internship was uncompensated when I came into the position, but I was told that I would be given the opportunity to write small articles and begin building a portfolio of published clips. To me, exchanging labor for experience was more than a fair trade. I think most people in my position would have agreed. However the reality of the situation was much different. The tasks I was given at the magazine consisted of fact checking, opening mail, and fetching cigarettes. I did, however, get to write a few small captions, but captions don't come with bylines. And to add insult to injury, the other interns and I were often asked to stay and work past 5:30. The magazine had clearly not held up its fair share of the deal. I was promised a challenging learning experience with writing opportunities, but all I got was a string of meaningless administrative tasks. And I don't think my experience was unique. Internships are often packaged as learning experiences, but when the intern arrives, suddenly everyone is too busy to take the time and coach the newbie. However, I do believe that internships can be fair as long as the company truly attempts to mentor the intern. That is obviously a very time-consuming and taxing project, but it is the only way to fairly compensate someone who is not being paid. Unfortunately for me, the people who ran the magazine had no intention of mentoring young writers; they only wanted someone to open their mail.


I agree with the above comment; as long as the internship offers something valuable to the intern that cannot be gained at a temp agency, the practice is fair in theory.

I recently interned at a place where I was given a small stipend weekly. This would seem more than fair, but I was actually an older intern who was changing careers. I chose interning over temping, because I believed that "in theory" I would gain access to knowledge I wouldn't have found otherwise. Although this was true perhaps one or two days per month, most of my tasks were things that any gerbil on a wheel could accomplish.

Therefore, one must ask these questions of his/her supervisor before accepting the position:

1. Will you allow me to shadow you during some of your executive meetings and your more complex tasks even if you aren't always ready to delegate them to me?

2. Will I be encouraged to volunteer my services in other departments and divisions so that I may gain a well-rounded experience?

3. Will you support me as I work to formulate my own working style and ideas to solving more complex problems?

4. Will I have opportunities to meet with you regularly regarding my progress as an apprentice in this field?


I say unpaid internships are generally a bad deal, because you don't want to end up in a financial rut once you get out of school.

If your internship doesn't pay you, then I think you should really ask yourself if this is the company you really want to work in. The best companies that attract and recruit top talent generally pay near the top.

I don't think a startup company is suitable for an undergraduate looking for work in the summer.

The folks (including me) in my graduating class who finished college with minimal debts ($10K or less) worked part time during school and either worked full time during the summer or got an internship. The summer months were critical to saving up cash to pay for courses and books. The stuff I earned during the school year paid for incidentals.


France is a country where internship has gone far. The present situation is that without one or several internships, a young graduate will not find a job. It means months or even more than a year of very low paid work with real responsibilities. It has become a widespread system that is overused by corporations as low-cost labor. A movement among internships, developed on the Internet, has finally emerged with repeated demonstrations in the street.

This is an example how internship can become another way to lower labor costs in the developed economies.

Grant Williams

"...[gaining] valuable experience without undue hardship"? Where in the real world does this occur? The thinking behind internships is that it provides students--those people who spend all of their other time learning the theory behind their chosen career--an idea of what it's like to implement those ideas in reality. That means distractions. Obviously it means distractions; why else would businesses accept interns and then put them to work dealing with those distractions? Sure, the ideal internship would consist of nothing except complete immersion in the company's central task, but isn't that what college is for? Isn't that what becoming a paid employee is for? Isn't that what keeping interns around is for?


It's simple. Unpaid internships are not fair. It is simply exploitation.


I remember as an international college student I had many restrictions to getting paid work here. Lucky for me, I got an unpaid internship with a major corporation. The work was OK; the people were fine. In the end, the name of that big corporation stayed on my resume, and it was easier for me to get my first job after graduation. Plus I got a feel of how Corporate America was working, the interactions within, and got to know some cool people. Today 10 years out and in the real world as a hiring manager in another mega corporation, I am on the other side of the fence, but if some kid walks in with a bunch of internships on his resume which he/she did along with college, got good grades etc., you bet he/she will have a head start and perhaps even get hired. Employers love to see people who can handle multiple priorities at the same time, and truly in my student days that's exactly what I learned. So I don't think it is exploitation; it is a win-win depending on your circumstances. Ideally we should all get paid internships, but some of don't.


It makes interesting reading on your resume. It usually pays off in the end. It might be worth doing if there was, barring gross incompetence, a job at the end. Entry level jobs are rudimentary grunt work everywhere. It can take years before you get to do anything interesting. Internships have another advantage. They are usually a set amount of time, 30 to 90 days. A person should be extremely active during that time, approaching the boss every few days on their progress. Looking for work elsewhere at the same time. You are checking them out at the same time they are checking you out. If the internship is with the company of your dreams, it might be worth a lot to get your foot in the door. If it's a third-rate outfit anyway you won't be staying. There's no substitute for experience. There is no hard and fast answer for unpaid internships. It an investment. Some investments pay off, some don't. Invest wisely.

Charles Lester

I dare say that the issue is not whether or not nonpaying internships are a good or bad idea, but whether or not they are moral and should fall under yet another form of governmental control. What I mean by government control is, government-mandated pay by employers to what had otherwise been nonpaying internships.

First of all, my position is that if any adult chooses to work for nonfinancial compensation, then there is obviously something of value that he or she is seeking by undertaking whatever task are asked of him during whatever time he spends as an intern. The want adds in any newspaper have just a mere sample of the available undertakings that one can apply for that pay money. Surely a college student has had some exposure to the concept: employment, by the time that he seeks a form of internship such that he knows that there exist jobs that will pay him money for his time and effort. This being said, any college student who takes a nonfinancial compensatory internship is stating implicitly that he feels the rewards of the internship outweigh the value that he can get from paid employment, at least at a particular point in his own personal life.

Internships, much like classrooms in colleges and universities, offer knowledge that a student can take advantage of and use for their own personal development, for their own personal future achievement, and ultimate financial gain. And also as so with these same classrooms in colleges and universities across the country, some are good, and some are bad.

Just as a student has the right to judge the quality of education he receives at a college he attends, and to choose whether or not to transfer to another college, he has the right to seek another internship elsewhere if the quality of work and learning is not where he feels it should be in exchange for his efforts and time. My or anyone else's arbitrary notions about someone else's time are irrelevant.

Adults have the right to choose what they do and for whom. This is all the safeguard necessary for anyone. Any form of government control only serves to eliminate yet another bit of choice we as individuals have, and will ultimately lead to a situation that makes the worst of today's internships seem like heaven by comparison.


I am inclined to think there's a direct correlation between getting paid and getting good internship experience. Think about it: If the company has to pay you, it is likely to make full use of you by giving you more challenging jobs. Otherwise, you are pretty much treated as how everyone treats freebies. I am just talking from my own experience of working with two paid and fulfilling internships, but would like to hear from the rest of you if this is the case.

So to conclude, I think internships should be paid for the reasons I mentioned above, and also to help students who are not financially able. What is a few thousand dollars to these corporations when the students are usually hardworking, eager to learn, and eager to please?


I think it's plain exploitation. An internship should be paid, period. It's OK if it's paid at a lower rate, but it should have some kind of compensation. It's unfair to the interns and to the employees. I have often taken recent graduates or university students for internships, and I have always made sure they receive a decent compensation. It's only fair, and it shows respect for the company and the intern. Anything else, I believe, is pure exploitation, and interns should not settle for this type of abuse.


I got my start in the IT field with an internship. I actually knew more than the employees supervising me, and they learned a lot, as did I. No pay for some good experience in operations, it was a good deal for both us. My current employer pays for it temps. We give them the jobs we hate, but need done. If they want in on the real interesting stuff, they can work without pay just like I did.

HT Bertram

Can you imagine Roark working as an intern? Not me.

Ex Intern

Most unpaid internships are unfair. The only fair internships are those where the student receives a lot of coaching and is more a burden than a benefit to the company. It's the U.S. law (Fair Labor Standards Act).

Charles Lester, with his individual freedom approach, misses a point: Are adults entering the deal really freely? We have an oversupply of labor that reduces the power of the students. Competing against one another, students have to accept the internships. Otherwise they have less experience to offer a future employer than their colleagues.

There's a Web site on this topic:


The summer before I graduated college, I was offered an internship. Mine was paid, but I would have taken as if it was unpaid anyway for two reasons. One was for the experience in my field (programming) and to get my foot in the door. I worked hard that summer, and when I left for school at the end, it was with a job offer in hand. Made my last semester a lot less stressful. Twenty-four years later I am still working for the company that gave me the summer internship. So for me, it was a good investment.


I recently started a summer internship in New York City, working for a bank. Fortunately, it's paid, but if it wasn't I would not have been able to afford accommodation in New York City; I would have needed to find a gig somewhere locally where I could live at home. Because of this, it's obvious that a lot of these unpaid internships are not only reserved for the academically strong students, but also the ones who can afford this type of monetary sacrifice. I don't think it's a fair system.


When working at a photography studio, don't assume your employer will let you have copies of, or any credit for, the photos you shoot.


Regardless of the benefits of having an internship, the intern should be paid a stipend, at least. After all, for-profit companies do not qualify for volunteer workers.

Furthermore, there are thousands of employees at an AT&T or an IBM who do absolutely no work all day and who refuse to learn new tools--just sit and chat on their Web cams with family all day. Why should they be paid?

al leong

Let the market decide. It will work out in the end (hard work = pay; easy work = no pay), value of training, reputation of firm, and what is learned are all factors.

Terry from Rochester

In a free market, the value of your skills is determined by what you can collect for them. If you have the skills, you deserve the pay.

If you lack the skills, a free internship is a gift. I'm struck by the irony of people paying six figures for a college degree who balk when they have to do a little grunt work to get the marketable skills they failed to get in school.

If we can assume there's some valid and truly useful learning available and you're not going to be exploited, valuable resources will be tied up for your benefit. Hopefully, you can actually get to a point where you're capable of making a high-value contribution.

Final thought -- the average job tenure is three years. How much of that time will actually lead to positive return on investment for shareholders?


All interns should receive a stipend to at least cover transportation costs. When I worked at a small firm, interns were paid $10 per hour. They contributed work that was important to the business.

John Anthony

I think it can easily go both ways. Some unpaid internships are yes, probably pure exploitation, while others may be that golden opportunity that will take the intern to the next level.

I can speak from experience that this is the case. I am currently a student attending a very well known MAC school., majoring in sports management and business. I have had many internships within my tenure here at this school, five to be exact. My unpaid internships went both ways as described before.

When I interned with our athletic development program, I did absolutely nothing for the four months. I, of course, did mailing and database work but nothing that would give me a good amount of knowledge about the profession. I was simply treated as somewhat of a handyman moving things around and cleaning up certain places.

My other internship was at a prestigious Big Ten university's athletic department. There I worked in major gifts among, other things and learned a great deal and never regretted that decision to this day.

Both were unpaid, but both ended with different tastes in my mouth. Sure, even a small stipend would have been great, so I didn't have to take even more student loans out to pay for my apartment or living expenses but both, even the crappy internship left me with something better. My crappy internship, on paper, led to me getting the Big Ten internship, which will lead me right where I want to start off my career. Was my first one exploitation? Of course it was. Did it help me out in the long run? Of course it did.

Now my major does call for an internship to be completed prior to graduation, which is where the Big Ten internship came into play. I could have also interned with a smaller company or a different school (some Atlantic-10 schools pay), but I decided to go for what's best for me and my future. Anyone who decides to take an unpaid internship knows what they are getting into. Getting coffee, doing mailings--that's all part of being an intern. No matter where you are. No one should be upset at the cards they were dealt, because those individuals always had the chance to fold.


I am all for paying interns, even if it's a token. When you pay, you feel obligated to get the most out of your interns--which ultimately means giving them the opportunity to do some value-added work (forcing you to properly mentor, coach, and teach).

It's the same as buying some gadgetry or winning it. When you pay, you take care.


The debate as to whether a student should receive compensation is moot and not morally decided by others. The arrangement is between the employer and the student and no one else. This is true between any two parties, buyers, sellers, employers, employees, etc. If it's not favorable to you, then take another path.

Ummm...France, the country where it takes an act of God to fire an incompetent employee.

Adam Pearle

"But there's no shortage of applicants, because ostensibly glitzy industries know there will always be a surplus of willing--make that desperate--kids to take advantage of."

Distorted logic here. There's no shortage of internships available, because there will always be a surplus of kids applying for them. There's no shortage of applicants, because those kids see value in internships beyond short-term monetary inducements.


I was told my friend's son was offered an unpaid internship for two weeks in a coffee shop this summer. He is only 13 years old--just graduated elementary school.

Is this legal?


It doesn't sound legal. Why the heck does a 13 year old need a two-week internship at a coffee shop anyway?

In general, interns should be paid. Most interns are already talented individuals who strive to prepare themselves, and that they don't even get a minimum wage is insulting.

Gord McG

Most jobs are learning experiences for your next job. Does that mean you shouldn't be paid for that work either? Of course not. Unpaid internships are exploitation, plain and simple.


While it isn't unfair to offer an unpaid internship to a consenting and informed student, especially because generally the alternative is usually "no internship at all" before "paid internship," it is highly immoral.

Public policy groups that don't pay interns inevitably exclude the lower class. They thus take the entire country's social choice into their own hands to perpetuate generations of middle-upper class policy experts who lack lower-class perspectives crucial to national development.

News industry internships similarly ensure future broadcasters who think that OJ Simpson getting arrested again is news while illegal bank eviction tactics in poor neighborhoods is not.

While these are two particularly important examples, the negative impact of discouraging internships for the lower class exist everywhere.

But then again who cares about their God-given right to social choices in this right-wing country anyway?


Internships exist for profit-making reasons. Just think about it. Many years ago, college students were "hired with pay" for summer jobs. Those "jobs" were often "in their field" of study and paid at least minimum wage to gain experience. I'm not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg. Perhaps it was the colleges who realized they could work with businesses to hire interns during the academic year. They could charge that student for tuition even with them absent from campus. That freed up classroom space for another paying student. Perhaps in a "foreign exchange" program. Mmmm. Double the money for one "slot." The employers soon caught on that they could now offer students work without pay. Another great deal for them. Not only did it sift out the "economically disadvantaged" from their work force, but they could now gain summer workers at no cost. Kids from upper income families on the most part. One way to "sift out the riff-raff" (sarcasm). Now, not only were advantaged youth now able to work for free due to mom and dad's deep pockets, but paying summer jobs related to student's majors quickly evaporated on the most part. Some exceptions: banking, investing and a few others.

I don't know why there hasn't been an uproar over this abuse of labor. In the late 1960s, if college kids were told they'd have to work for free either for their summers, or during the school year (instead of attending classes they paid for) they would have been marching on Washington.

Amazing how this insidious practice took hold and no one questioned the ethics.

Now if a student wishes to "shadow" someone in a profession that's another story, but once they start doing "actual work" they should be paid.

Monica Gagnier

Before I graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications (yes, I was one of those who majored in journalism) and started my career in earnest, I was fortunate enough to hold several internships at newspapers that included The Albuquerque Journal (one summer) and The Syracuse Post-Standard (two semesters and one summer).

I also worked for a summer in London at Third World: EEC, a consulting firm specializing in appropriate technology and sustainability in the developing world.

All of those internships paid an entry-level wage. I was also reimbursed for my mileage when I had to travel to crime scenes and school board meetings.

These paid internships were vital to me, especially during the summer, because I put myself through college and I needed the money for tuition.

I'm one of those who believe internships should result in something besides experience--if not a paycheck, then academic credit.

Throughout career I've often been asked to contribute my writing or editing services for free, especially since the advent of the Internet. This is something I've refused to do.

When I work for free, as I do two mornings a week, it's for nonprofit organizations who can't afford to pay me, not budding Internet millionaires or debt-ridden media organizations.


It's definitely immoral. Theoretically, there is no end to this line of thinking. Should McDonalds be able to have people work for free for the first few days while they learn the ropes? If not, why not? It's a "learning experience" isn't it?

A a matter of fact, why not have them pay the company for the opportunity to learn? Offer that McDonald's job to the highest bidder.

By the way, only the top ten percent of the law school class gets paid $3,000 a week. The rest of us had to work for nothing.

Did people have to work for free before we started sending all of our jobs to China? No. The race to the bottom has gotten worse than any of us could possibly have imagined.

How low can we go?


Unpaid internships can possibly be beneficial, but it is always great when an intern receives some money even if it is a small amount. This encourages the employer to get more out of its intern and thus further benefits the intern by ensuring more challenging work.


All internships should be paid for two reasons. One: Some students are already down with debts and may not even have rent and food. Two: If companies pay salary, they are more likely to take the internships more seriously. If you get free labor, you may not appreciate the interns as much.

I don't expect the company to pay much--the minimum wage is often more than enough.


It's back to the law of the jungle, the strong exploit the weak. If you want mercy or justice, either buy it or look it up in the dictionary if you can't afford them. The US is cracking up and only a fool can't see it. What system has ever survived a currency collapse in one piece? This exploitation in most cases is just one example. Invest in weapons.


Whether you think it's right or not, unpaid internships are illegal:

Regardless of the article, however, I think all internships should be paid--even if it's minimum wage. You get a better performance out of the employee. If not, at least chip in for gas/food. So at least there is some incentive.


I was an unpaid intern for 7 weeks back in 1988--and was thankful. However, I support paid internships for incentive purposes for both the intern and the employer. Obviously money motivates the intern to do well, but when an employer is paying the intern, they are more motivated to have something productive to give the intern--work that will benefit the company. My son is currently a paid intern (paid very well, I must add), and he is being worked very hard and learning a lot of valuable information that will help him in his career.


I held two very different internships in college. One was paid; one was not. The paid internship was for a large multi-national whose revenue approached $50 billion USD last year. The unpaid one was for a local non-profit environmental education group whose office consisted of two full-time employees and me. They were defintely both valuable experiences, but the paid internship made life much easier. To get by during the summer I worked at the unpaid, non-profit. I had to work a second job waiting tables at night to afford rent and other living expenses. It definitely made for a busy, somewhat stressful summer. I personally think all interns should be compensated at least minimum wage. Unpaid work should be left for volunteers.


"Beggars cannot be choosers." With that being said, as not all internships are created equal, it is moot to debate the point. However, if our higher education institutes are doing their jobs, we might not even have this debate at all. After all, they are getting paid.


I have never had an unpaid internship. I've had more than three internships that I did not receive monetary compensation for, but every one paid off. Just like the unpaid student teaching process for educators, internships are an educational and necessary step toward becoming a professional. Whether you get a check in the mail or not, internships definitely pay off in the end.


I am a business student and currently working at UBS where my internship is unpaid, so it's not true that the big banks all pay their interns a lot. In fact, my friends at Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup do not get paid either.

I have never held a paid internship, but I see value in getting the experience in the areas that you prospectively would like to work in. Because internships are hard to come by now, it is beneficial to have some resume material for recruiting in the future.

However, I do agree with Josh in the sense that only students who have financial stability can pursue unpaid internships in cities like New York. This is unfair to many who cannot afford it.


Sounds a whole lot like Huck Finn's fence painting deal. A modern day "slave" labor outing. It is amazing that the people that do not pay the interns also holler at folks who work and receive (according to the liberal media) outsized wages/bonus. Interns make it possible to give the professors a little more in their paycheck, but that is fair.


I suspect that the college where the intern is a student should be responsible enough to get feedback from the interns to determine if the employers participating in their internship program actually provided benefit. If not, they should drop that employer and not invite them back, and they should share their feedback with other colleges. And I suppose as long as the intern knows in advance that there is no pay, but there is some real benefit, it's okay. but if they don't get any benefit, then their feedback should basically end any chance of that employer participating again for many years.


Such roles have had many different names throughout history: serfdom, slavery, surplus labor, and in more recent times, unpaid internship. The times and particulars may differ, but the concept remains the same for each of them: The worker is exploited in exchange for free labor. The programs typically begin as benign while offering some boon or other non-monetary reward to the worker, while supported by whatever government or power may be in authority at the time. Yet eventually such things collapse upon themselves when people figure out their true nature, but rest assured they always return in some guise or another, as the tendency to exploit the worker sometimes becomes too irresistible under a capitalist system.


I think paying interns keeps the company honest. If they need actual work done, it is valuable to them and they will care more about the results if they also fork over wages. Non-paid interns rubs me the same way as companies asking employees to work for free a couple weeks or month this year or they would have to do layoffs. People are not a commodity that stocks the shelves; they run the business.


I think everyone here is missing the point of unpaid internships. The problem with finding a job in your "dream" field is that most companies will not hire anyone without experience--yes, this applies to permanent hires and interns. Why should I train someone from scratch when I can hire someone with experience in the field? An unpaid internship gives you a foot in the door: a chance to meet the people who are doing what you want to do. Even learn a few things about how they do things and just maybe--leave enough of a good impression and learn enough so that you can get a paid position next summer/after graduation. Of course structured and paid internships are highly desirable, but I bet (all things being equal) even those employers will choose someone who has worked in their field as an unpaid intern first over someone who doesn't know the first thing about their business. Training people is an expensive and time consuming commitment. As such structured internships as everyone is referring to tend to be rare and the number of applicants far outnumber the openings. If you are resourceful, an unpaid internship will give you an edge over all the other applicants next year.

Frankie Jonas

Interns are doing internships to learn. They pay USD70,000 a year to learn at school but then expect to be paid to actually do very little during internships. It does not make sense. Getting work experience and an extra line on the CV is a lot more valuable than the cash interns hope they can immediately get.


It's unfair, period, if you are passionate and love something and try to gain as much knowledge as you can about a career in person. To learn how to better yourself in a career you should be paid. Otherwise it's unfair. Free labor is poverty. It is slavery.

Alex M

People like Frankie Jonas completely miss the point, which is that many students actually have to work for a living. These students don't have their parents' money to mooch off of while going to school and doing their internships. They have to earn enough money to pay for school and/or for rent, and they can't do that if they spend their entire days working at an unpaid internship.

This is just another way to keep the lower class down. Middle and upper class people have no problem with it because they don't even think about the fact that poorer people need a source of income that an unpaid internship doesn't provide.


Doing an unpaid internship is BS. If you are a college graduate and desperately need some real world experience, then start up your own business. You could have started up your events planning business, or do some DJ mixing for college parties, or developed your own professional blog and wrote compelling web content on the field or industry you are interested in. Get your camera out and go around the local area and become a citizen journalist, citizen public policy activist, and write. Write your own book about a topic you want and get it copyrighted, then publish it for free on Create Space (an partner) and sell, sell, sell your book. If you are a software developer, then develope your own applications and sell them online. Or work on open source projects. Why would you put your future in the hands of some employer that wants a free ride? Don't you value your talent enough to get paid for it?


Unpaid is unfair?! What a farce. This entire concept is lacking in judgment. Why not be paid to attend university? I mean, they make you work and stuff! Whatever whiny. An internship, paid or not, is an extension of the academic learning environment. If you prefer to be paid, then don't take an unpaid internship. I am more likely to convince my dream employer to take me on as an intern if there is no liability. Consider yourself lucky for not having to pay out of pocket for the internship and related knowledge-building.


I knew of graduate students with work experience (ie, 25+ year olds) in Washington, DC, working as much as one year for free for private companies in order to get a foot in the door. In the UK, such activity would be illegal. Following their lead, any internship that is not of a religious or charitable nature or directly related to an academic program should offer at least minimum wage.


First of all, unpaid internships in the U.S. are illegal if they violate the Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). It states that unpaid internships are only allowed if the work the unpaid intern performs is for training purposes, doesn't replace a paid employee, and provides no value to the organization. So, getting an unpaid internship especially with a for-profit organization is the worst career move anyone could make and says "desperate." Better for that grad student to have started up a blog and tried to find ways to monetize least you can say that you were offering a "freeium" business model to potential customers online.


I once had an American boss who kept telling me that I could learn a lot from my everyday work from the internship that actually paid nothing, and the boss was mean, too, I couldn't even have a cup of water in the workplace. Yes indeed I learned a lot, but at that time I was not so sure about my future career, and I had to stand up with his tyrannic temperament all day long and stay with him until late at night. I was finally fed up with it and quit over the phone. Later he offered to raise my pay...probably because I was one of the best interns he ever had. But later he changed his mind, said I would be paid by the hour but the maximum payment would not exceed 5 hours' work for a day. Later I had a fight with him in front of his customer from New Zealand, and I just left. I was never humiliated like this in my life.


I have so many internships under my belt that I call myself an "Eternal Intern." After nearly five unpaid internships, I realized I could either cry about it or blog about it. I got together with two girlfriends with similar internship woes and started a blog documenting the ups and downs of the world of internships ( We have interned in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Toronto. We are three well-educated, well-rounded young ladies with great resumes and we just can't seem to catch a break. Every internship only seems to lead to another unpaid internship.

I Told U So

Wow! Ophelia, I can see why you are so disgusted. It's hard to get someone to pay for "free." It seems like these unpaid internships are an example of racing to the bottom. We all have to find ways to get picked for the team and right about now--that means "free."

Çek Kanunu

Students should not have to pay for internships--exception might be to be placed in internships abroad, but overall there are free services that can help any university student through their career services office. Students are already paying thousands of dollars for an education, and it is to their advantage to take advantage of the services at their universities. Will career services find you a job or internship? No, that's not why they are there. They exist to help you learn how to find opportunities, network, and many times teach you life changing skills. Thank you for bringing light to the unfortunate existence of programs like University of Dreams, where a student has to pay to even apply to the program.

Matt Hammond

If certain employers are able to elicit labor from individuals for no or little pay, why then do we even have minimum wage laws?

Minimum wage laws were implemented simply because when an open-market approach is applied to employment, the result is that the lower-class is subjected to unlivable wage rates.

In the real-world, "unpaid" internships are often exploited to the effect of taking work away from "paid" professionals who are cheated out of work. For example, when a company offers an unpaid internship to a student for building them a website, this makes it pretty hard for paid professionals to charge even minimum wage for their services.

And while this form of "internship" clearly violates Federal Labor Laws, it is quite often the result of such internships that hard working Americans are forced to work at sub-poverty levels even when doing skilled labor.

Mike Costa

Hiring and training employees can be a huge risk and expense.

I hired paid interns and employees and spent months trainging then and trying to get them up to speed. It didn't work out and my company almost collapsed.

Recovering from this as well as a market recovering from the great recession, with the unemployment rate in some areas at 15%, unpaid internships are the only way I can bring people in and show them the ropes.

Mike C

Mastt Hammond -- why do non-profits get a pass? These leaches make money and pay their staff very well. The only difference between then and another corporation is that they don't declare a profit and therefore don't pay taxes.

The profits go into the employee salaries. They seem like the corporations who should be required to pay interns.

What about government unpaid interns like Monica Lewinsky?

Mike Costa

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

"This internship is unpaid. Congresswoman Pelosi supports students requesting credit for their internship through their school or university. There is no application deadline and interns are accepted throughout the year. Preference will be given to residents of San Francisco. Please keep in mind, however, that summer is a popular time for internships, and there is a limit to the number of interns that may work in the office at any given time."

Other unpaid internship advertisements:

Florida Attorney General's office:

Columbia Law School

Georgetown Law

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

University of Texas Law School

Boston Lawyers Group

UCLA School of Law

State of Texas - Office of the Attorney General

US Senator Amy Klobuchar


I propose not to hold off until you earn a big sum of cash to buy all you need. You can get [a] loan or college loan and feel fine.

Jayson Walker

WTF happened to the minimum wage and anti-indentured-servitude laws? Don't you care that your 'intern' (slave)' has no money for food, rent, or any of the necessities of even the most meager of lifestyles? Time for massive lawsuits!

Daya Lee

Early in my career as a freelance photographer I assisted in an small studio. Although paid as an independent contractor, I worked for her several days a week for a couple years. Suddenly she no longer required my services. She told me she didn't have any jobs that required an asistant and coincidentally at the same time, all the long term projects I had been working on for her had been canceled.

This seemed odd considering her business was thriving. Upon investigation I learned that she had replaced me with an unpaid intern and given him the uncompleted assignments. These projects were jobs for which the client paid her for.

I later learned that the terms and conditions of my freelance work for her were in violation of state and federal regulations governing independent contractors. According to those state and federal guidlines, I was actually an employee. It would have been more expensive for her to hire me as an employee. It ws more costly to me to work for her as an independent contractor, because I had to pay self employment taxes and was not eligible to collect unemployement benefits after she let me go and replaced me with an intern.

The terms under which the intern worked for her were clearly in violation of federal laws regarding internships. She did not bring on the intern to provide him with a learning experience, although he certainly got one. She brought him on as free labor.

This kind of exploitation is rampant in the photography industry and, as a result, has eliminated many entry-level opportunities for young photographers starting their careers. It has also pulled down the wages for the few paying entry level jobs that are left. The typical shopping mall/department store portrait studio pays their photographers. Even if their photographers have experience or a degree, they pay them the same as the high school kid ringing the register: minumum wage. The commissions they get on the sale of bargain basement print packages don't make up for the low wags.

Most of the "internships" that I see available are clear violations of the state and federal guidlines.

Unpaid internships offer learning experiences for recent graduates who can afford to live without a paycheck, but in the field of photgraphy, there are few entry-level position available that pay enough for a young photographer to survive on, especially when they may have college loans to pay and need to buy equipment they will need to establish their careers.

These conditions exist across all fields of endeavor and it is unconscionable that in these times of high unemployment and limited opportunites that anyone could exploit internships as a means of getting cheap or free workers.

There are federal guidines regarding internships and most companies violate them. I encourage everyone to become familiar with those guidlines and inform anyone who may be violating those guidlines or be subject to violations.

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