Woes of an unpaid internship

Everyone understands college students are broke. The second I strayed from the comfort of my parents’ house to attend ASU, the financial reality of “the real world” hit me square in the face.

All the ramen consuming and penny saving isn’t a silly stereotype. It’s real life. This is why the increasingly popular unpaid internship seems ludicrous.

As job opportunities dwindle and competition grows, are we in any position to essentially work for free?

College students are constantly reminded the importance of building a résumé. It’s an integral component of the personal portfolio. We are told quite blatantly to complete as many internships as possible to heighten our chances of getting hired post-graduation.

I am a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where students are given infinite opportunities to expand professional horizons.

Internships are plentiful, and driven students have no issue snagging them.

However, I’ve noticed an increased number of unpaid jobs. Unpaid jobs. Does that sound like an oxymoron to you, too?

There’s much more to professional experience than the paycheck. But between student loans and skyrocketing tuition, college is hardly the time to encourage taking on further debt.

The unpaid internship phenomenon is far from under the radar.

Hearst Corp. and other renowned companies have faced lawsuits for these questionably unpaid internship positions.

According to an International Business Times article titled “Hearst Corp. Seeks Allies in Lawsuit Against Unpaid Interns,” Christopher Zara explains the unpaid internship conflict.

“Approximately 1 million Americans work as interns each year, and half are unpaid,” Zara said.

Zara explained that one former Hearst intern, Xuedan “Diana” Wang, filed a class-action lawsuit against Hearst for violating New York labor laws. Wang worked 55 hours per week without pay and was denied a letter of recommendation after leaving.

“Defenders of the practice say unpaid internships offer green college students and grads the chance to gain valuable experience and make professional connections they would not otherwise make,” Zara said. “Critics, however, say unpaid interns are being exploited by unscrupulous employers who are simply looking for free labor.”

It’s true that unpaid internships exchange work for class credit. Although this may sound fair enough to employers, for this trade to be equitable the student must be currently enrolled at a university. Financially independent students now seek paid jobs on top of school and the internship just to make ends meet.

Unpaid internships mean saying “yes” to professional experience and “no” to rent money.

It’s a no-win situation.

With summer internship deadlines quickly approaching, many will have to make this critical career choice that could significantly impact their personal budget. It might help to ask: If a student is offered an unpaid internship, is the gain worth the loss?

 

Reach the columnist at inovak@asu.edu or follow her at @IsabelleNovak

 

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