No pay? Don’t intern.

JULIAN WYLLIE | | Opinion Editor

Completing an internship does not guarantee future success or wealth. This is especially true for students working as an unpaid intern.

The hiring rate for college graduates who completed an unpaid internship was 37 percent, according to a National Association for Colleges and Employers survey in May 2013.

The troubling fact is that the hiring rate for students who didn’t have an internship at all was 35 percent.

Essentially, an unpaid intern encountered the same obstacles as someone that never did an internship.

However, students who had any history of a paid internship were far more likely to be hired. Their rate was 63 percent.

Gary Beaulieu, Butler’s director of internship and career services, said that he was initially surprised by the study, but he also clarified details that may have been lost in the report.

“Typically, nonprofit internships are the unpaid internships,” said Beaulieu. “For-profit companies tend to be more aggressive, so they hire more students full-time after college.”

In other words, nonprofits can’t afford to pay their interns but engineering companies and investment banks can.

Still, this is not only an issue related to nonprofits. There are for-profit sectors that do not regularly pay their interns, either.

For example, journalism students work the copy desk at a local newspaper, pharmacy students work on their rotations and education majors become student teachers. These internship experiences are usually unpaid.

The status quo must change.

With increased scrutiny against unpaid internships, two universities in particular have taken steps to improve the situation.

Miami University of Ohio stopped posting unpaid internships from for-profit companies, according to The Washington Post. Mike Goldman, Miami’s director of career services, oversaw the initiative.

In another case, George Washington University started a career internship fund to provide $1000 to $3000 grants for students working as an unpaid intern in the nonprofit or government sector.

The stipend is designed to help students pay their tuitions and maintain a healthy cost of living without having to look for more work.

Forty percent of unpaid interns supplement their losses in salary with another paid job, according to Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

William Rieber, a professor of economics at Butler, said that George Washington University and Miami of Ohio’s model was “clever,” but he was unsure if their ideas could work at Butler.

“It is a nice model if you have the resources to do it,” said Rieber, “but I’m not sure if Butler has the money for it.”

I disagree.

I think Butler’s internship and career services should look into the policies implemented by the aforementioned universities.

This could be the bridge between keeping unpaid internship opportunities intact while making sure that students are properly compensated for their work.

It is not that experience and learning opportunities aren’t important, as well.

The problem is that experience and learning can’t pay our room and board.

In a perfect world, the money wouldn’t matter.

Since that isn’t a realistic assumption, we must work with our constraints and push the boundaries whenever possible.

If you are unhappy with your unpaid internship, go get help. Butler students are lucky enough to have an impressive internship and career services department at their disposal.

Career advisors can help with students’ internship searches. They can also assist students in searching for the best-case scenario: a paid internship.

But, above all, it is the student’s responsibility to find the internship that best fits his or her short and long-term needs.

If you know you want to be paid and you still accept an unpaid internship, remember that you made that decision voluntarily.



  1. Rebecca Fenton said:

    Another excellent article Julian. I am sure after reading this students will give serious thoughts about unpaid internship.

  2. Joe Lawry said:

    Hey Julian! You made some very interesting points about paid vs. unpaid internships in this article. What I hope your readers understand, however, is that an unpaid internship can be just as important as one that is paid – if not more so. Reading this article might scare them away from those non-profit opportunities that seek to educate and not reimburse. I’ve had numerous paid internships (some of which were at Butler) that were a complete letdown and the fallout from those positions was greater than it should have been simply because money was involved. You’re correct in your assertion that it is a student’s responsibility to determine whether or not an unpaid internship is right for them. What I would also ask that same student, however, is just how serious are they about their future career? If they’re truly passionate about their given field, then accepting an unpaid internship shouldn’t be an issue. Should we reform the professional landscape so that all internships are paid opportunities? I don’t think so. If all internships came with the promise of a paycheck, then more students would accept them simply “to pay the bills” and not to learn as the name of the position implies. Another thing students should keep in mind is that if an unpaid internship isn’t right for them, then the only thing they’re missing out on when they walk away from it is a learning experience – and that entire process can be a valuable learning tool in and of itself.

    • Julian Wyllie said:

      Joe, thank you for reading the column. As for your comment, I agree with most of the things you said. My intention was not to deter students from all unpaid internships. Unpaid internships are a staple in certain industries like fashion, media, and nonprofits. However, in some cases, students are in situations where they cannot meet their needs without some form of income. The cost of an education is rising each year, so it is unfair in my opinion to expect all students to accept an unpaid internship. I am by no means discounting the great experiences that one can gain from an internship, paid or unpaid, but there are real world needs that need to be fulfilled. This is why I ultimately place the responsibility on individuals to know what they need in an internship. It will be their career choice in the end and that is a personal decision. On another note, I hoped that my column would spark the Internship and Career Service office to look into the ideas George Washington University and Miami University of Ohio employed. I’m happy to inform you that my column did accomplish that, and their office is looking into the suggestions I made. Once again, thank you for your comment. You’ve added to the discussion and that’s sorely needed.