Weighing Paid, Unpaid, Bought Internships


I got an email this week from the father of a college sophomore, requesting my point of view regarding his plan to buy a summer internship for his son.  The “helicopter parent” is focused on building his son’s resume so he hopefully lands a good job upon graduation or impresses the best graduate schools. 

The internship in question is being offered by University of Dreams for the same amount the student should be making in a traditional summer job.  The student isn’t sure about the profession he wants to pursue, so I suggested that the father save his money.  While two or three internships are now the “cost of entry” in post-college job searches, I certainly don’t think you should buy an internship between the sophomore and junior years of college. 

Last year, this blog discussed purchased internships, but I’ve become even more negative towards the concept, and I’m alarmed about the increasing number of unpaid internships.  Unless an internship is with a nonprofit organization or qualifies for at least three college credits, all interns should be paid. 

Parents, students and mainly employers need to adhere to state and federal laws governing internships.  Today’s New York Times sheds important light on legal implications of unpaid internships.  The article quotes a U.S. Labor Department official, who says, “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”   My bottom line:  If an organization benefits financially from an internship, they should pay for the help.   

6 thoughts on “Weighing Paid, Unpaid, Bought Internships

  1. Hi Ron,

    That New York Times article caught my eye this morning, too, and I agree with you and the reporter. I have been doing a lot of internship searches online and find so many that are unpaid from for-profit companies. The most blatant post I saw was for a fashion PR internship position at a well-known publication. The job description mentioned the internship was unpaid and interns should work with a “sense of urgency.” For some reason, I immediately pictured scared, frantic interns scanning their environment while moving big boxes of clothing.

    I have met a PR student who actually went through the University of Dreams internship program in New York. She only had good things to say about her experience, but she did mention the expensive price of the internship and that she was unpaid.


  2. Ron,

    While I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment, the problem is that University of Dreams seems to have a bit of a stranglehold on larger corporate PR internships and even, to some extent, agencies like Ruder Finn in New York (while it does offer its Executive Training Program through normal channels, it utilizes UoD for internships).

    There are agencies/corporations that either don’t want to or can’t devote the resources to maintaining their own internship programs…and who can blame them? It’s a time-consuming process. Until a non-profit management system can be developed, or until universities begin asserting themselves and developing the industry partnerships that should be rightfully theirs anyway, we’ll have to put up with a system that in many cases prices out the best talent.

  3. Ron,
    We are both looking at getting ready to graduate right now and work with our internships. We agree with your bottom line comment “If an organization benefits financially from an internship, they should pay for the help.” We both have put forth extreme amounts of hours (or in process of doing so) towards our internships and have seen little to no money for our contributions. Yet the company is using our efforts and time to create monetary gain as well as making the company and its products more well known. Our feelings are that it is unfair for us to not be paid for all the hard work and time we have put into our internships knowing that the company is gaining financially and we are not.

  4. Ron,
    We both definitely agree with you if an internship makes a profit they should pay instead of saying its for networking experience because you are making money off of the help of intern. They are using our time and effort for their company but not paying for the time. With non profit organizations I also agree they probably should not be paid because they only receive grants to keep their organization going.

  5. Ron,
    We are both getting to the end of our college careers and both feel that even though we may put forth hours of work and time to help the company make a profit, We do not have a problem with being paid if our hard work turns into a full time position and career. Would you rather have a 3 month internship that pays or a few months of hard work that takes to a new life and career? In the job market today the more experience that you have the better. We both have been told by many people that knowing someone in the field or having a good reference will help you get a position faster.

  6. Ron,
    As a graduating student in Mass Communications, Public Relations, I entirely agree with your bottom line “If an organization benefits financially from an internship, they should pay for the help.” I have secured an internship at a small PR firm and will not be paid for my time and effort spent working for the organization. Most internship opportunities I have looked into are in the same unfortunate situation. With little to no other options for paid internships students or forced to select the typical unpaid position. Regardless of laws or regulations regarding internships, companies take advantage of requirements of graduating students. I would like to see an increase in options for future students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *