As the school year approaches, parents with kids in college may start to hear about potential internships. While most (over 60%) of internships are paid, the remaining 40% are not. And here’s why that’s a problem.

Obviously, there are some serious ethical concerns about having someone work for free. You might assume that, as a provider of free labor, you would be treated like royalty — but you would be wrong. 

The internet is full of nightmare stories featuring unpaid interns who are expected to work well into the night. Many report actually losing money during their internships. Some employers will try to offset this by offering non-monetary inducements — such as giving a byline to the intern for any articles they write. In other words they’re saying, “You’ll get paid with EXPOSURE!”

There are some unpaid internships that actually make you pay to apply. A prominent human rights organization is included on this list. Without knowing any specifics, I will refer to that cardinal rule of job searching: Never pay to apply for a job. Unfortunately, some organizations leverage their reputations and people have no problem paying $15 for the chance to get that prize on their resume.

Zooming out, we see that both paid and unpaid internships are not distributed evenly across the population — studies show that students whose parents have college degrees somehow manage to gobble up many of the paid internships that become available. Unpaid internships apply a different selective pressure, requiring the intern to already have the resources necessary to forgo a paycheck for a semester. 

Despite the negatives, it’s undeniable how advantageous it is to have an internship on your resume — major tech companies have said before that internships are a positive factor in their hiring decisions. The way I look at it, six out of ten internships being paid is not a bad starting point. Maybe the student will have to search a little longer for paying internships, or even wait a semester or two, but eventually they’ll find a way to advance their studies at the same time they “make bank.” 

At JHA, we have a fondness for detail and, most importantly, a BS detector. We can verify the legitimacy of an internship listing before you or your kid apply. Contact us for more information.