Unpaid internships force students to choose between gaining experience or getting paid for quality work


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While internships give a chance for college students to get experience, many do not pay interns for their hard work.

Tania Ortiz, Opinion Editor

Internships are usually a rite of passage for any profession, allowing college students to have a foot in the door in their preferred field. 

Studies show that students acquire new skills and expand their network, helping develop their job prospects. In other words, having an internship is viewed as a “must-have” during one’s college experience.

 As many of us know, there are paid and unpaid internships, both with the same idea in mind: to enrich and prepare college students in their respective fields. The only difference between the two is self-explanatory. But not being paid doesn’t stop some students from applying for these types of opportunities. While it would be nice to get paid for doing any kind of work, many students think that just being able to experience their desired careers first-hand is a great thing.

But at the same time, having an unpaid internship can come with problems. The first is that sometimes these programs overwork their students despite not giving any pay. Another concern is that students sometimes have to find another job to sustain themselves, especially if the internship requires them to relocate. 

There have been multiple debates on social media over unpaid internships in the past week and why they are unfair because college students are basically working for free. Especially if the internship requires at least 40 hours per week, now imagine how you’d feel if you worked 40 hours a week and not get paid for work — frustrated, right?

 It’s tricky to pick a side with this situation because, on the one hand, for many college students, just having any internship opportunity is a win, whether it’s paid or not. On the other hand, these college students are working for nothing. While it is quite true that experience doesn’t pay the bills, one can’t help but be grateful for the opportunities they have.

 Legally, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, interns are not considered employees because they are “the primary beneficiary of the arrangement.” This means that interns can be paid in knowledge for a full-time job’s worth of labor as long as they are learning.

 Sometimes taking an unpaid internship position is the only option since many entry-level jobs expect at least two to three years of experience. Students would then have to choose between not having any experience on their resume before they graduate or having some and not getting paid for it. On top of that, it is rare to find a paid internship program that is not too competitive to get accepted into, and sometimes it depends on the field you are pursuing.

The Center for Research on College Workforce Transitions (CCWT) released an analysis of 675,594 internship postings in 2019 and revealed that 71 percent did not list any pay. 

Additionally, most of these unpaid internships are centered in the media, government and human development fields.

There is no reason why college students should be expected to work long hours for free when no one else would. While gaining experience is essential to many college students, it’s important that students who work strenuously in these internship programs to get paid for the work they put in.

  Tania Ortiz is the Opinion Editor for The Cougar Chronicle. She is a senior at CSUSM as a communication major. Tania plans to pursue a job in the media industry after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, going on runs and spending time with friends.