Compensation: Money or Experience?

An internship, or two, under one’s belt is a sure way of guaranteeing a leg-up in an increasingly crowded workforce post-graduation. Though most internships give individuals valuable experience they can leverage in the early stages of their career, only some offer fair monetary compensation. Moreover, because internships have evolved from “something-nice-to-have” to almost a necessity, interns’ wages are a point of contention and debate.

To start, internships take up a large majority of an individual’s time. One editor shared, “I had an internship over the summer from June to August. I would wake up at five a.m., get on a bus at six, embark on a two-hour drive to New York City, work all day, leave the office around 4:30 p.m., rush to make the evening bus, and get home by seven. The journey home was mentally and physically exhausting, and I would have to do that every weekday which left me little to no flexibility or motivation to do anything else.”

Not only do internships take up personal time, but they are mentally and physically taxing. After all, the point of an internship is to challenge the intern to acquire skills and habits that will equip them for a successful career in their field. However, internships are especially difficult to balance with academics, extracurricular responsibilities, a social life, and, potentially, another job.

“It’s not fair for college students to submit to unpaid internships. Companies are essentially exploiting free labor, knowing that many students need the real-world work experience,” one editor argued.
A different editor agreed, “I don’t think it’s right to not pay someone who is actively contributing to operations of a company. They are taking advantage of young people who want to advance their careers. I would never take an internship that was unpaid, but I also have the privilege of doing so because of my field; however, that’s not the case for all industries. Even if you are gaining experience from a company, I don’t see how this is justifies not paying interns.”

Contrary to what some of the editors feel, many companies argue that real workforce practice is enough to warrant someone’s employment. “The reason why companies don’t pay you with money is because they pay you with knowledge and experience,” explained an editor.

Other companies, specifically smaller businesses, offer unpaid internship opportunities because they simply cannot afford to compensate their interns with anything other than experience.

“I think companies should be required to pay their interns even if it’s a smaller business. If they can’t afford to pay someone who is working for them, then they shouldn’t be hiring in the first place,” dissented an editor.

While the editors had some strong opinions, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Some see a shift across various industries where there are more paid internships than there are unpaid.

One editor agreed, “I feel like people have finally realized the inequality that many interns experience, and their speaking up has subsequently made a difference— even if it’s just small one.”

Disagreeing, a different editor said, “When I was looking for internships last semester for the summer, most, if not all, were unpaid. All of the internships I was looking at were writing-based jobs that require extensive amounts of time. The whole experience has made me rethink getting an internship at all.”

Another editor chimed in, “I completely agree and advocate for paid internships, and I see this becoming more common practice; however, this shift is stronger in corporate related fields rather than humanities. For example, student teachers are not paid, and they are in the classroom every day preparing lessons and activities for several months.”

Only time will tell if paid internships become the new normal, not the exception.