Editorial: Applying to unpaid internships? Here’s what you need to know

There’s a difference between being an employee and intern, and it’s important to recognize the thin line.

by Daily Editorial Board

Whether you’re searching for a post-graduation internship or a summer gig, knowing your rights (and your worth) as an intern is highly important — especially when it comes to unpaid internships. Don’t get tricked into an internship that isn’t what you think it is. Internships are clear stepping stones in landing a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you must settle for an unpaid one.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, created by the the United States Department of Labor, sets criteria for determining “intern” status. You should be aware of the criteria as you approach unpaid internships. According to the act:

  • The intern must understand that there is no compensation
  • Their training must be similar to an educational environment
  • Interns may receive academic credit
  • The internship accommodates academic commitments
  • Internship duration is limited
  • The intern must be provided with significant educational benefits
  • The intern is not entitled to a paid job at the end of the internship

Weigh your worth before applying to an unpaid gig. Ask yourself: if you have relevant experience, is an unpaid internship the best you can do? It’s also important to be completely candid with recruiters about what you’re looking to get out of the experience. Recruiters should be transparent with you, too.

Between stipends, experience and gaining connections, it’s hard to determine whether an unpaid internship is beneficial. It puts a lot of students at a disadvantage; companies should consider the fact that students who cannot afford to do these internships are inherently hindered. 

We also want to acknowledge that the Minnesota Daily does currently offer unpaid internships. These positions largely act as stepping stones to paid positions. This situation is not ideal, and we would love to pay all employees. However, we recognize the budgeting struggles that businesses are posed with. Not all companies have the room to take on paid interns and we are fully aware of that reality. We urge other organizations to weigh the work of their interns and consider further opportunities to provide. 

If you are a student at the University of Minnesota and you are having trouble finding a paid internship, the University offers an abundance of scholarships for unpaid interns. Be sure to research any scholarship opportunities while applying for internship positions and ask the employer if they offer scholarships.

If employers aren’t open about their internships, you should probably be looking elsewhere. There’s a multitude of internships wherever you go, so you should find one that truly suits your needs. You’re worth it.

For more resources, visit Career & Internship Services and Student Services & Advising.