IM We-sa -. nar 2921 // The Statement
Wednesday, January " 2014 58
Salary S acrificed:
Are unpaid internships worth it?
by Alicia Adamcyzk, Daily Staff Reporter
Christopher Reynolds crossed the
Before Engineering sophomore
Diag on his first day of class last
fall, the Pennsylvania native knew
he would need to save money from
his high school lifeguarding job in order to pay
for his college expenses. Initially, he thought he
could spend his earnings on a new computer.
But as it turned out, he needed the money to
subsidize a different job experience.
Reynolds, a first-generation college student,
pays for his own tuition. So when he looked
for an internship after his freshman year, he
knew he wouldn't be able to take anything that
wasn't paid. While he did manage to secure a
paid internship with General Electric Aviation
in Ohio, Reynolds said had he not successfully
balanced paying his out-of-state tuition while
saving up spare cash throughout the year and
from the previous summer, he wouldn't have
been able to afford to take the job.
Reynolds isn't alone. With the internship
quickly becoming a staple of the collegiate
experience, many students are left pondering
the costs and benefits of committing to a full-
time position without the standard full-time
"I felt really pressured to do something in the
summer, but worrying about if I could afford
it," Reynolds said. "That pressure really beat me
down the first semester, and I can't tell you how
happy I was that the internship offer was paid:"
Many students, some in as tight of financial
situations as Reynolds, aren't fortunate enough
to receive a paid gig. Instead, they are left to
take an unpaid position to break into a career
field. While many students at the University are
able to afford such experiences with help from
parents or savings from other jobs, others - like
Reynolds - can't rely on outside help.
Without help or savings, the internship expe-
rience can be hard to navigate. But some interns
have fought back against unpaid labor.
In June of last year, two interns working at
Cond6 Nast publications - W Magazine and
The New Yorker - filed suit against the pub-
lishing company, claiming they were paid less
than $1 an hour for their work, which they said
violated federal labor laws. Soon after, Condte
Nast discontinued its internship program.
Since the Conde Nast incident, several other
lawsuits have been filed against companies
alleging that unpaid internships violate federal
law. With the obvious drawback of receiving no
pay for work, the lawsuits further complicate
the validity of unpaid internships for college
Still, while some interns may have a legiti-
mate case, not every unpaid internship is illegal.
The U.S. Labor Department has noted that
work performed by interns in governmental
agencies and nonprofits does not have to be
paid. The Fair Labor Standards Act lays out six
points that must be met to constitute an unpaid
internship, among which include mutual agree-
ment of no payment, and supply of an "educa-
tional environment" for interns.
The language of the law, however, is ambigu-
ous in places, leaving legal interpretation up to
employers and, increasingly, the judiciary.
With some unpaid interns taking the case to
the courts and others, like Reynolds, not able to
afford to work for free, it begs the question: Is
the unpaid internship worth it?
Benefits of an internship
Genevieve Harclerode, assistant director of
experiential learning and employer develop-
ment in the University's Career Center, said
internship experience has become a normal
expectation for most employers looking to hire
students after graduation.
"While not every employer in every field is
expecting that you've done four internships in
a field before you embark on an entry-level job
search, certainly we are seeing that employers
have a baseline expectation that you should be
able to articulate whyyou might be interested in
a certain industry," Harclerode said.
She explained that any kind of exposure to
a professional setting is beneficial not only for
employers to take students seriously, but for the
students themselves to decide whether or not a
certain field is the right fit.
Additionally, internships provide the oppor-
tunity for personal growth.
Amy Sumerton, program director of
826michigan, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit
organization that helps elementary and high
school-aged students with their writing skills,
wrote in an e-mail interview that the fact that
the internships offered at the nonprofit are
unpaid has never posed a serious issue.
Sumerton said 826michigan has had interns
from all socioeconomic backgrounds, who are
always enthusiastic to volunteer their time. To
help facilitate those interns who are less privi-
leged, however, she said the program offers a lot
of flexibility in hours and work management.
"I think most of our interns understand that
they are getting a valuable experience for their
time, and doing something positive in their
community," Sumerton wrote. "They may not
get a paycheck for their work, but interns typi-
cally gain a bevy of marketable skills, a better
resume and a great letter of recommendation."
Ford School of Public Policy junior Abigail
Orrick said she enjoyed her unpaid internship
with the Department of Education over the
summer because it allowed her to communi-
cate directly with the high school students she
hopes to one day work with.
While she applied to both paid and unpaid
positions last summer, she said the Depart-
ment of Education was her number one choice,
"The best thing about an internship is you're
not just studying the material out of a textbook
or you're not just listening to somebody else
who's had that experience, you're doing it your-
self," Orrick said.
Still, had she not received a scholarship
through the Public Service Internship Program,
a program within the University that provides
resources and support to students interested in
pursuing public service-related internships in
Washington, D.C. over the summer, Orrick said
she wouldn't have been able to take her dream
Like others on the program, Orrick said she
set a strict budget during her ten weeks in D.C.,
and tried to make the remaining funds of her
"I did coupon over the summer," she said,
LSA senior Rachel Rowlands, who interned
with Glamour Magazine over summer 2013 -
before Cond6 Nast, the magazine's publishing
company, halted its internship program - said
living and working in New York City was a great
way for her to break into the publishing field,
despite not receiving pay for her work.
"I had a great time, I met some amazing peo-
ple," Rowlands said. "You can't really get better
first-hand experience than working with edi-
tors who do that everyday."
For many fields, including government,
media, entertainment, fashion and nonprofit
work, an unpaid internship is standard prac-
tice. While this doesn't pose an issue for some
students at the University, Harclerode, from the
Career Center, said there are many students she
works with who need to take creative approach-
es to financing their summers.
Others, however, completely forego taking
the internship because they simply can't afford
to work for free. Harclerode said it's a sad situ-
ation for students who really want the experi-
ence, especially as employers come to expect it.
But just because a student can't afford to take
an unpaid internship, that doesn't mean she or
he won't be successful in future job searches.
Sumerton, from 826michigan, emphasized the
importance of enthusiasm and a demonstrated
interest in the mission of the organization as
key qualities ina potential intern or employee.
"We look for applicants who are motivated
and eager to learn things," Sumerton said.
"That, in my mind, is more important than just
about any kind of experience."
Harclerode too said most employers expect
to see that students have a demonstrated inter-
est in their field. Typically, employers won't
know the difference between a paid or unpaid
internship when they look at a resume.
While Harclerode thinks most employers do
prefer to pay interns, it isn't feasible for every
company, especially smaller businesses and
nonprofits. She noted that some companies,
such as NBCUniversal, have moved to a paid
internship program in recent years, perhaps in
light of the lawsuits and attention now devoted
to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
"I think that's a positive trend," she said.
"Any move towards compensating college stu-
dents is a good thing."
Pressure to succeed
While many of his freshman friends were
enjoying their first year at the University, Reyn-
olds, the General Electric intern, said he felt
immense pressure not only to find an intern-
ship, but to also support himself at the same
While other interns used their first pay-
checks to buy new watches or televisions for
their apartments, Reynolds, who cannot rely
on financial support from his parents, was wor-
rying about paying for gas to travel to and from
Orrick, too, said there was a definite divide
between students from different socioeco-
nomic classes in D.C., where most of the intern-
ship positions are unpaid. Although Orrick and
many others in PSIP budgeted consciously and
had help from scholarships, she said it was obvi-
ous that many other students didn't have the
The financial constraints that some students
have is something employers should take into
consideration when developingtheir internship
programs, she said. As the income gap between
students in universities across the country
increases, the same disparity can be seen in
"I think there is a bit of an issue with it being
limited to middle and upper class students
doing internships because they're the ones
who can afford them," Orrick said. "It's cutting
those students out who would bring a lot to the
internship and to their employer but yet can't
financially do it."
A creative approach
Like the others, LSA senior Laura Goslin,
who interned in Congressman Dan Kildee's
(D - Mich.) office, had to think outside of the
box when it came to financing her summer in
D.C. In Goslin's case, this meant graduating a
year early so she could use the money she saved
from paying tuition to afford to live in one of the
nation's most expensive cities and work full-
time for free.
"I made a deal with my parents that they
would pay for housing," Goslin said. "I was just
really fortunate. I know if I didn't have that set
up I wouldn't be able to go."
While the unpaid internship isn't going away
any time soon, there are many resources across
campus that can help students take a creative
approach to funding their ideal internship
LSA Internship Coordinator Elizabeth
Pariano said she has witnessed the number of
internships growing over the past few years
as more students and employers recognize the
benefits of the experience. While this means an
increase in the amount of unpaid opportuni-
ties, she said it will also translate into more paid
positions in the future.
For those who find themselves struggling to
pay for their summer experiences, Pariano said
there are many resources for students to take
advantage of. For example, LSA students with
demonstrated financial need can apply for the
LSA Internship Scholarship, which can grant
up to $5,000 to subsidize internship costs.
"You need to be ready to ask one place and go
to another," Pariano said. "It's on the minds of
many of the people I talk with in these depart-
ments. I don't think a student should ever hesi-
tate to ask or inquire about it."
Additionally, Pariano is helping to develop
the LSA Internship Network, which will con-
nect LSA students with employers - including
LSA alumni - looking for interns. The data-
base will require employers to indicate wheth-
er the position is paid or unpaid, which is also
a requirement for jobs posted on the Career
Center's website currently. Pariano said many
students are able to "piece together" an appro-
priate amount of support through multiple
channels to afford to take an internship.
Hopefully, all of these resources will help
students secure not only their ideal internship,
but one that is paid for those who can't afford
to do it any other way. She said the University's
goal is to engage as many students as possible in
the process if they're interested in the experi-
"We'd like to be able to support as many stu-
dents as we can," she said. "I think it's impor-
tant to give them the options and facilitate the
options to open as many doors as we can."
Pariano emphasized the importance of the
individual student figuring out his or her needs
and taking the appropriate steps to accomplish
their own goals and ambitions. She encouraged
students to seriously consider what value they
will get out of an internship - paid or unpaid -
before they take it.
In some cases, this may involve students cre-
ating their own opportunities or taking a path
"That's a good thing, that there are so many
paths," she said. "There are opportunities to
take other kinds of work."
Harclerode also stressed that there are many
options for students who feel that they can't
afford unpaid internships. She suggested talk-
ing to employers about shortening the length
of the internship, looking for scholarships or
sponsors in the city of employment, considering
less expensive cities to work in that offer similar
opportunities and supplementing the intern-
ship with a paid job.
While it isn't the ideal situation, she encour-
aged students in financial straights to take
advantage of the resources provided on campus.
"Ultimately, I think anytime you have the
opportunity to be able to gain more exposure
and clarify career interests it's a positive thing,
but like I said, there's some resources out there
that would hopefully help support a student,"
Harclerode said. "I do think there are some stu-
dents who need to make difficult choices."
Reynolds seconded Harclerode, saying his
internship experience took a lot of planning and
budgeting. Still, he said all of the effort paid off
because of the experience he received.
"Even with all that planning ahead, it was
still was kind of hard to get started," he said."In
all, it really definitely is worth it."
To see the full version, go to michigandaily.com
IT 'S AL ABOUT.
T IHE tNUMB- ERUS
On campus, how do unpaid internships compare among students? A Career Center
survey conducted in fall 2013 showed varying summer internship experiences.
Unpaid but with
Paid - Hourly
825 students Compensation
Paid - Stipend
Yes, I received scholarships
from a source external to thi
No, I attempted to seek
additional funding but did
Additional not secure it
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from the University
No, I didn't seek