In the scramble for summer work, some students wind up working pro bono.
According to Management professor Peter Cappelli, the prevalence of unpaid internships always spikes when the economy goes down.
“It certainly appears that there are more now,” Cappelli said, though he added that one of the difficulties in analyzing unpaid internships is that there is little data kept on them.
However common, unpaid internships “tend to be illegal,” Cappelli said.
The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits unpaid interns from doing any work that a paid employee could do, he explained.
Violations of this law, though, typically go unreported.
“If you’re the unpaid student who’s working there, you’re fine with it,” Cappelli said, “and if you’re the employer you’re fine with it.”
Still, unpaid internships “are not the tools of the devil,” director of Career Services Patricia Rose said.
“There are a lot of instances where [unpaid internships] are very valuable,” Rose said. “Then there are others where employers are trying to take advantage of students.”
Whether an internship is paid or unpaid strongly correlates to the field it is in.
While internships in business and technical fields are rarely unpaid, industries like publishing, journalism and theater frequently only offer unpaid positions, Rose said.
“The more glamorous the field, the more people are willing to take unpaid internships,” she said.
In some fields, union regulation prevents companies from paying non-union members, which extends to interns, Rose said.
Additionally, some employers require unpaid interns to receive academic credit as compensation, she said.
While Penn by and large does not offer credit for internships, the College of Arts and Sciences instead will put a note on students’ transcripts with the details of their internship.
Furthermore, most Penn students do find paid summer work, Rose added.
Last summer, about 18 percent of College students held unpaid positions — either full or part-time — compared with 65 percent who found paid work. About five percent of School of Engineering and Applied Science students and Wharton School students worked unpaid.
However, College sophomore Matt Valdespino, who will spend this summer working without pay for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, came across few paid positions in the realm of political advocacy and nonprofit.
Though he wishes paid alternatives were available in the field, Valdespino said he “accepted it as something that has to happen” in order to do the sort of work he wants to do in the future.
College sophomore Chloe Sharfin likewise accepted an unpaid internship at a small public relations firm for the coming summer. In order to help compensate, Sharfin will likely intern only part-time in favor of searching for paid work as well.
“I won’t get as much hands-on experience because of the financial constraint,” said Sharfin, who also held an unpaid internship last summer with a nonprofit organization.
Rose said the benefits of some opportunities often outweigh the fact that they are unpaid.
“We think students are able to assess whether it’s worth their time or not,” she said.Comments powered by Disqus
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