It’s safe to say (and The New York Times said it Wednesday) that interning has become the norm. These days, college students typically graduate with an internship or two under their belt. Not just because work experience is a good thing to have — internships can act as a crucial segue into the workplace — but because it’s expected that job applicants already have it, or they won’t get hired in today’s increasingly competitive workplace.
With that expectation, of course, has come a serious growth in the pool from which companies offering internships have to choose applicants. A larger pool means greater competition, as students are desperate to fill their resume — even if it means working for free. But after the Department of Labor declared, in 2010, that unpaid internships are illegal, according to the New York Times, companies have begun to take advantage of this high demand for work experience and avoided legal liabilities by offering work in return for college credit.
Is this fair, though? Unpaid internships seem to equip students for success in obtaining employment in the future. But as much as they provide students with the chance to enhance their resume while also making networking connections, unpaid positions also hinder a student’s ability to stand on his or her own feet sooner rather than later. We’re forced to live at home, or hold other paying jobs on the side.
Moreover, only students with other sources of incomes or parents to support them can accept an unpaid offer. In some ways, the unpaid system only benefits the wealthy, furthering the divide between those with privilege or a leg-up and those without. The Times also critiqued the “academic internship,” in which colleges get tuition to not teach students but rather place them in an internship for which students will get credit. This is what the Boston University Internship Programs abroad do, which means that tuition for an Internship Program is essentially free money for the university. As The Times explained: it’s not just that students receive no wages, it’s that they’re actually receiving a “negative wage.” They are paying BU to receive credit, but they’re not going to class. They are going to work. This is almost exploitative.
On the other hand, it’s almost necessary. As more and more soon-to-be-graduates seek job experience in the form of internships, it becomes a.) more crucial that students land a position and b.) more difficult for companies to hire so many applicants. There simply isn’t that much money to go around. Offering unpaid internships, therefore, benefits the student in that it allows them to get experience in offices where there would otherwise be no budget for them. Additionally, unpaid internships are perhaps slightly less competitive than those that offer a salary.