Unpaid internships on the rise

May 16, 2012

A difficult job market has forced many college students and recent graduates to resort to desperate measures to find the job of their dreams. Some take low-paying entry level positions in hopes of impressing someone and being promoted. Others opt for internships, hoping that a temporary position will turn into something more permanent down the road.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that more than half of students in the class of 2011 had internships, however nearly half (48 percent) of them were unpaid.

A recent article in the New York Times alleges that unpaid internships are becoming more common, especially among recent college graduates.

"A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships," Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns, told the newspaper. "But now I've even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools."

While many unpaid internships provide workers with valuable experience, some don't. In fact, a handful of former unpaid interns are suing their employers for violating minimum wage laws.

According to NACE, paid internships are not only favored by students, but also by employers.

A recent study conducted by the organization revealed that individuals who work as paid interns while completing their degrees are more likely to get a job offer, have a job in hand by the time they graduate, and receive a higher starting salary offer than their peers who undertook an unpaid internship or no internship at all. NACE found that 61 percent of paid interns received offers from the companies they interned for, versus 40 percent of unpaid interns.

"Paid interns reported spending more time on 'professional' duties and therefore appeared to gain more of the 'real' experience that appeals to employers than unpaid interns, who spent more time on clerical activities," said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

Still, many people argue that experience - especially in your desired field - is valuable regardless of whether you're paid or not. After all, the job market remains difficult.

Luckily, moms who are offered unpaid internships while pursuing a college education or after graduating can take advantage of grants for parents, scholarships for mothers and single mother scholarships in order to help pay for their degree.

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