Opinion Blog: Are Unpaid Internships Invaluable?

April 22, 2011  

Posted by Maggie Ashworth
mashworth@smu.edu

Is free labor by college students the latest form of slavery?

With unpaid internships booming across the country, college students are accepting work without compensation, and in many cases they pay for the experience.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, universities should discourage internships as a requirement for graduation, but that statement is far too general.

Jobs these days are hard to come by, so many universities are offering course credit for an internship—since they typically serve as a learning experience that cannot be offered in the classroom, and may present an opportunity for a career after graduation.

Personally, I think the workload of an internship and its requirement for graduation should depend on the degree being obtained, as well as the experience needed to gain a job in the desired field after graduation.

It may sound contradictory to pay to work for free. However, speaking from experience, internships really can serve as great preparation for the working world and may provide an invaluable boost to a resume.

Fortunately, my unpaid internships have been smooth sailing. Although I would certainly appreciate a paycheck for the work that I have put in, both of my unpaid internships have served as great tools for networking and professional experience.

As a journalism student at Southern Methodist University, I had the option of fulfilling three hours of course credit (as an elective) with an unpaid internship. While I could have divided course credit among several internships I made the decision to receive the full three hours of credit from my first internship.

This allowed me to get course credit over with, while working in a fun work environment. Now I am now on to my second unpaid internship, where I am not receiving course credit or monetary compensation. Although I may have my bitter moments about literally working for free, I’ve gained a much better work ethic and understanding of the professional world.

However, after researching problems other students have had with unpaid internships, I have learned that most companies do not consider unpaid interns to be employees. This means that these interns may not be protected by even the most basic employment and labor laws, such as sexual harassment.

This information leads me to believe that universities should only allow students to accept free internships at companies that are able to ensure the security, wellbeing and protection of their interns. However, I still stand behind my opinion that unpaid internships do hold value.

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