Should Internships Pay?

Should Internships Pay?
  • Opening Intro -

    College students who are preparing to enter the job market are in a bit of quandary.

    Most employers are looking for potential employees with experience, but how do you get experience if you have never worked before?


To pay or not…that is the question.

This is where internships come in.

Thousands of employers retain interns who are typically young, college-aged students who are seeking to gain experience, but not always with recompense. The thought of laboring long hours without pay can seem daunting, especially if you have personal expenses to cover such as room, board and food. Moreover, the Fair Labor Standards Act may have some say whether you should be paid, at least receiving minimum wage which can bring you close to $300 per week if you work full-time.

The Test

The FLSA requires employers to “test” whether an internship should be paid or not. The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.


Clearly, if an employer meets all six requirements of the test, then this internship does not have to pay the intern. However, it would be reasonable as an intern to ask the company to provide a minimal wage, given that you still have personal expenses to cover. As an intern, you should determine whether the duties and responsibilities of the internship are something you believe should result in payment.

If not regular pay, you can ask for a stipend, which would be a set amount of money paid weekly or monthly regardless of the number of hours worked. Some colleges and universities also pay stipends, particularly if your internship is for a non-profit organization. Check with your college’s career office to see what options are available to you. At Wellesley College, for example, students can receive stipends by participating in its “global engagement internships,” earning $3,500 for working in the U.S. or $5,000 for working abroad.


Should you find a position that offers no pay or a stipend, but provides work experience and networking opportunities you would find difficult to obtain elsewhere, then you may find that an unpaid internship is the way to go. Keep in mind that you’ll have to shoulder extensive out of pocket expenses including buying work clothes, shelter, food and transportation. In return, you’ll gain experience that you can list on your resume and perhaps make contacts that can lead to a permanent, paid position when you graduate from college.


United States Department of Labor: Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

Wellesley College: Internships by Name

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