The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

All student internships should be paid

3 min read
A laptop, coffee mug, phone, and notepad sit on a brown wooden desk.

Student interns deserve to be compensated for their work. | Andrew Neel, Pexels


Staff Writer

Many college students seek out internships to gain experience in their field of study. However, many do not receive compensation for their time. On job websites such as LinkedIn and Indeed, there are an array of paid and unpaid internship opportunities available.

According to Forbes, “42% of online internships and 35% of in-person internships were unpaid” during the pandemic. There are many people who deserve to be paid for their time and services but do not earn any revenue, and this should not be allowed.

Interns offer their valuable time and unique skills to companies, similar to part-time employees in terms of hours worked. In most situations, free labor is illegal. Even though interns work comparable hours and complete similar tasks as part-time employees, they are not included in the Fair Labor Standard Act. Therefore, it is legal not to pay them. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Interns and students, however, may not be ‘employees’ under the FLSA—in which case the FLSA does not require compensation for their work.” Some individuals have challenged this, causing the courts to use the “primary beneficiary test.” The test, which looks at seven factors of intern-employee relationships, decides if a student is an FLSA employee or not. Nonetheless, interns are contributing to the company and working in the best interests of both parties, so why shouldn’t they get paid? Organizations who do not pay interns for their time, work and efforts are not just unfair, their practices are unethical. It is time to end unpaid internships. 

Students are not looking for the same salaries that graduates earn, but it is only fair for us to be compensated, even if it’s just minimum wage, especially since the work we are doing relies on us being educated.

“Unpaid internships are bad because they are very exclusive,” said senior biology major Aidan Gallagher. “Only people from wealthier families—wealthier socioeconomic classes—can afford to put in that type of work with no pay, and the further result of that is it tends to cut off diversity and people.”

Some students are able to accept an unpaid internship, while others cannot afford to do so. There are employers who want to pay interns for their efforts, but do not have the necessary funds. Many departments at UMW have this obstacle, including campus recreation. 

“Campus Recreation does not offer paid internships because the department simply does not have the budget for it,” said senior business administration and marketing major Amethyst Ralls, the student marketing coordinator for Campus Recreation. “Students are eligible for up to three internship academic credits as most majors require those now. The department has experienced many cuts to the budget, especially post-pandemic, leading us to only being able to offer academic credit for our internship positions.”  

Ralls thinks it is important for interns to be paid for their work, but she appreciates that campus recreation can provide academic credits as a form of compensation, as a lot of the department’s exposure is credited to the interns’ efforts. 

Not only are paid internships beneficial for the students, their employers profit from it as well.

As reported by The College of St. Scholastica, interns are valuable assets to organizations because they represent the new generation of innovation in the field. By introducing students to their field in a small capacity, they are able to contribute new ideas as to how to reinvent or improve the functions of their field, which can benefit the company they are working for, too. 

While I have had both unpaid and paid internships, my current unpaid internship with UMW’s Athletic Department has been different from the rest because I have to pay for the internship credits in order for them to count towards my degree. Many sports management minors, along with other UMW students, have been in this same situation. I dedicate hours every week to positively impact the department, and instead of getting paid, I am the one paying for my own efforts. 

Internships are beneficial for both the intern and the company, so it is important that organizations pay interns for their time.