It’s finally Fall, and with it come thoughts of cider mills, football games and cozy sweaters. And, of course, applying for next summer’s internship! If you’ve been putting it off or debating whether internships really matter in the big scheme of things, let us assure you, they do!
In fact, one of the most basic factors separating students who find it relatively easy to land a well-paying job upon graduation from those who end up unemployed or underemployed is whether the students had internships or not—and whether those were paid vs. unpaid internships.
Consider the Stats
According to the results of the Class of 2019 Student Survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), “more than half of all graduating seniors who applied for a full-time job—53.2 percent—received at least one job offer. Within this group, 57.5 percent of students who had an internship and 43.7 percent of graduating seniors who did not have internship received a job offer.”
In addition, the students who completed at least one internship prior to graduation were significantly more likely to receive multiple job offers for positions after graduation. For those who completed at least one internship, the average student received 1.17 job offers. Meanwhile, those without an internship received 16 percent fewer job offers: an average of only 0.98 per student.
Paid vs. Unpaid Internships
The study also revealed a difference in employability and salary based on whether the internship was paid or unpaid. Although many legal experts believe that unpaid internships are illegal (unless the employer is a governmental or non-profit entity), that doesn’t mean that companies don’t still use them. Unfortunately, studies show that nearly half of all internships are unpaid. Companies defend the use of unpaid internships by meeting a set of criteria that includes providing training that is “similar to that which would be given in an educational environment.” In other words, the unpaid internship must benefit the intern more than the company hiring them.
However, according to the NACE study, being paid during an internship makes a difference in employability. The study showed that 66.4 percent of 2019 graduates who had a paid internship received a job offer. On the other hand, just 43.7 percent of unpaid interns were offered a job. That means that if you graduate with an unpaid internship and your friend graduates with a similar but paid internship, she is 34 percent more likely to receive at least one job offer upon graduation. Ouch.
Finding a paid internship versus an unpaid internship may be easier in some industries than others. For instance, you’re more likely to find a paid internship in the transportation, manufacturing and engineering fields, than industries such as fashion, journalism and entertainment. So, what’s a student to do? Getting an internship, whether paid or unpaid, should still be at the top of your “to-do” list. Obviously, everyone would like to get paid for the work they do, especially if you’re responsible for paying for education, rent and other living expenses on your own. However, if you are financially able and the internship provides a truly valuable opportunity (i.e., training, hands-on experience and networking vs. coffee runs and cleaning) than it may be worth accepting the offer. Before accepting an internship, be sure to ask what the specific job responsibilities will be and how the internship will benefit you.