Unpaid Internships Aren't the Problem — Working For Credit Is


With last week’s landmark Fox Searchlight case seen as a victory for many young, broke interns, the world has been quick to criticize unpaid internships as something akin to slave labor. But what many don’t realize is if unpaid internships are eliminated, the alternative is incredibly damaging.

Because of new labor laws and issues, many companies now only offer credit-mandatory internships. On its face, the intern gets a valuable professional experience while fulfilling degree requirements. Since it’s safely conducted through the student's university, the company offering the internship is free of any possible financial wrongdoing, and they still don’t have to pay their interns. Sounds like a win-win for both parties.

But in reality, working for credit can set back a student’s college degree progress, limit the number of opportunities available, and end up costing them thousands of dollars.

In a situation where a student needs or wants university credit, internships for credit are a great solution. But this simply isn’t always the case, as many high-achieving students have their schedules already packed full. Making them use their valuable credits for an internship takes away room for other college classes. Not only does this eliminate students’ chances to take the courses they desire, it could fill a slot that needs to be reserved for the core curriculum. This in turn actively inhibits a student’s degree progress. With this in mind, an unpaid internship can be seen as an extracurricular activity of sorts. Students get to take the classes they want and need while working the internship of their dreams.

Secondly, college credit is expensive. If a student’s financial aid package doesn’t cover an internship, one credit can cost up to $1500. Additionally, some universities mandate that internships fulfill a certain number of credit hours to count as a legitimate substitution for a university-offered class. Since a standard university course is four credits, interning for a company can cost the student up to $6000, a price that many millennials can’t even fathom affording. Plain and simple, working for credit actually costs the student — they are paying to work for a company for free. That’s just wrong any way you slice it.

Lastly, as more and more companies offer credit-only options, the few paid internship positions that exist have become even more competitive. If a student fails to earn this coveted spot and can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to work, then they are left without any internship. They subsequently lack experience, which makes it hard to find a job. The for-credit internship system has failed the student. This could have been solved by interning for free.

If you force college credit in to the equation, the whole value of an internship is skewed. The goal of any internship is to offer students time in the professional world, giving them knowledge that instills important lessons, looks great on a resume, and benefits both them and their employer. Money and university advancement are not the incentive, experience is. And that deserves to be credited.