BY EMMANUEL ATUFU
If you’re good at something, never do it for free. It is a phrase that everyone has probably heard before and it makes sense. If an employer wants your skills and expertise they should pay you for your time and for adding value to the company.
Then why are college students still applying for unpaid internships? The answer to that question is not quite so simple. Most college students believe that even if an internship is unpaid, it will eventually lead to employment after graduation. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case anymore.
In 2013, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the leading source of information on the employment of the college graduates, surveyed over 9,200 graduating seniors on their internships, from February through the end of April.
According to their findings, 63.1 percent of graduating seniors with a paid internship under their belts had received at least one job offer. Compare that number with only 37 percent of former unpaid interns who could say the same. Even more shocking, those without any former internship experience whatsoever, clocked in at 35.2 percent.
And it gets worse. The NACE study found that among the students who found jobs, former unpaid interns were actually offered less money than those with no internship experience.
New college graduates who participated in paid internships received a median salary of $51,930. Graduates with no internships at all out earned graduates who had unpaid internships, $37,087 versus $35,721.
Some might say a college student’s major might play a significant role, but that is statistically false. According to NACE, unpaid interns fared roughly the same or worse on the job market compared to non-interns across a variety of fields, including business, communications, engineering, English and political science.
However, it would be disingenuous to not mention that paid internships are more prevalent in STEM majors such as finance, engineering and computer science versus liberal arts majors such as English, theatre and history.
But if that is the case, then does that mean paid interns are smarter compared to unpaid interns? Again, false. According to Intern Bridge, a consulting firm that specializes in college recruiting, paid and unpaid interns had about the same distribution of GPA’s.
These findings raise the serious question of why college students who participate in unpaid internships are barely outperforming and even are being out earned by those with no internship experience at all.
While there is no clear answer to this, one thing that is clear is that an unpaid internship can cripple a college student’s career prospects and earnings potential compared to paid internships.
College students with unpaid internships are offered less pay, which is an unsettling situation to be in considering the fact that the majority of college students are graduating owing tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. And that debt will probably have to be put in deferment.
For the sake of fairness, unpaid internships can offer college credits, workforce experience, networking opportunities, improved job prospects and something to put on a resume.
Mostly though, they can be a risky bet unless they align with your future career path. An example would be doing an unpaid internship at the White House as a political science major, making it a valuable experience that can lead to great things.
However, hypothetically, if you are doing an unpaid internship at an insurance company with no strong interest in the insurance field, then it would be highly encouraged to plan an exit strategy because statistically, it does not make much of a difference.