The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

88° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Beware unpaid internships that cost more than they’re worth

    Employment opportunities for 20 to 24-year-olds are hard to come by in today’s job market, and since the onset of the economic recovery, youth unemployment numbers have improved only modestly. It’s hardly surprising that more and more of us are turning to unpaid internships to escape the jobless blues.

    But college graduates seeking refuge from post-college unemployment should be aware of the drawbacks to these highly sought-after unpaid internships.

    Yes, an internship at the right company can springboard you into the work force, but the experience itself can be fraught with disadvantages.

    The last thing anyone wants after spending thousands on a four-year degree is to be stuck cleaning out office supply rooms or wiping door handles to minimize the spread of swine flu.

    The most obvious inconvenience is that unpaid internships are — who would have guessed — unpaid, which means you’ll either have to break your back juggling multiple part-time jobs or have exceptionally generous friends or relatives willing to provide you with food and room and board while you intern.

    Of course, if you have a stockpile of cash sitting in your savings account, this could all be avoided — but let’s be honest. Most broke college students can’t afford to be that liberal with their finances. The point is that if you don’t have the means or the methods to support yourself, your unpaid internship could quickly become a lesson in how to live below the poverty line.

    Another drawback that is frequently overlooked by prospective interns is that time spent interning could be used to find an actual job with a salary. Instead of pushing papers or brewing coffee for an ornery supervisor and his ungrateful staff for nothing in return, you could be out there working in an entry-level position, making money while gaining valuable experience.

    Internships that actually give you a look at the realities of your future career and get your foot in the employer’s door are the ones you should aim for. If you find that most of your time is spent performing menial tasks fit for a custodian, you probably aren’t doing anything to advance your career prospects.

    Unfortunately, it’s become exceedingly difficult to determine whether or not companies offering unpaid internships are seeking to enhance or exploit interns, which is why the Department of Labor has started cracking down on companies who aren’t in compliance with federal labor laws regarding internships.

    An internship must resemble vocational education and interns must work under close supervision. Moreover, their work cannot substitute the work of paid employees or be of immediate benefit to the employer. If a company is found in violation of these federal legal criteria, an unpaid intern has the right to sue for minimum wage violations.

    So before you jump at the opportunity to take an unpaid internship at that one big company or firm, bear in mind that you may not be getting what you bargained for. An internship can be a very rewarding and beneficial experience, but it can also be a waste of money, time and energy if you’re not careful.

    — Nyles Kendall is a political science senior. He can be reached at or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search