Unpaid Internships Are Bad News for Job-Seeking College Grads
1:45 pm, June 19th | by Grace Rasmus
If you’re a college student toughing out an unpaid internship in the hopes that it’ll help you find a job, listen up: recent studies suggest that you might be better off just walking away.
For three years, the National Association of Colleges and Employers has asked graduating seniors if they’ve received job offers and if they’ve ever had paid and/or unpaid internships. Each year it has reached the same, depressing conclusion: while paid internships give students a distinct advantage over their peers in the search for full-time employment, unpaid internships are pretty much on-par with not having had any internship at all.
This year NACE kept track of more than 9,200 seniors from February through the end of April. They found that 63.1 percent of students with a paid internship under their belt had received at least one job offer. Just 37 percent of former unpaid interns could say the same, which was only 1.8 percentage points higher than students who had never interned.
The salary outlook was even worse for former unpaid interns: students who had previously worked in unpaid internships were offered less money than both paid interns and those who had never held an internship.
“While there’s a stark difference between having a paid internship and no internship in terms of offer rates and median salary, it all pretty much seems to wash away when you’re talking about unpaid internships versus no internships at all,” Edwin Nace, NACE’s research director, told The Atlantic.
Data from Intern Bridge backs NACE’s findings: In 2012, Intern Bridge concluded that college students were about twice as likely to receive a job offer at the conclusion of a paid internship than at the end of an unpaid internship.
The results might be correlated with other factors of course, such as which type of fields offer paid internships and which offer unpaid. For example, journalism internships are often unpaid but the reason that journalism graduates can’t work in the field is probably because of the job market.
Still, research indicates that the figures remain in similar proportions throughout different fields. Data also shows that the paid internships (and subsequently better job offers) aren’t necessarily going to the “smarter kids,” as GPAs were similar.
There has been a lot of controversy over unpaid internships as of late. Besides the obvious ethical and legal concerns over free labor, there is also the argument that unpaid internships favor financially privileged students who can sustain themselves while working for free. But, based on this research, lower-class students who cannot afford to work in unpaid internships may not be so disadvantaged in the job market; nowadays, not having an internship could score you a higher salary.