Paid vs. unpaid: Are all internships created equal?

Some interns are paid minimum wage, others are given lamb-inspired goodie bags. Not all of Chapman’s students who were compensated with college credit instead of checks felt cheated.

“I felt like I was getting paid in experience, which is really cheesy,” said Thomas Hecker, a senior communication studies major.

Besides published clips, Hecker was reimbursed for his unpaid internship at Northwest Travel Magazine in experiences, which included camping trips and a cooking class on how to debone lamb legs with his editor-in-chief.

Even Christine Hughes, a junior screen acting major, did not favor her paid internship at Lionsgate over her unpaid experience at the Agency for the Performing Arts.

“I wouldn’t say I was more motivated by one than the other, because they were just very different,” Hughes said.

The students spoken to all viewed their past internships as valuable, paid or not. But the concern is whether employers view both types of internships as equally impressive. A U.S. News and World Report article cited a 2014 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers that said paid interns received more job offers post-graduation.

“65.4 percent of the class of 2014 who had completed a paid internship at a for-profit company received a job offer prior to graduation. In contrast, only 39.5 percent of students who had unpaid internships received a job offer,” the U.S. News article said.

These statistics may not be the direct result of preference. Penguin Random House, which has published award-winning novels such as “The Martian,” was asked on its career Twitter account whether the company favored job candidates with paid internship experience or if that was irrelevant.

“Both are equal in our eyes! Just be sure you get some awesome experience and gain transferable skills,” Penguin Random House tweeted back.

But some students agreed with the National Association of Colleges and Employer’s stance.

“I think that maybe companies might look at it and think, ‘Oh, he was paid before, so he must be worth it,’” said Alexis Monroe, a senior communication studies major, in regards to having a paid internship at the Orange County Register under his belt.

Monroe went on to say that what he did will ultimately catch people’s eyes more, but admitted the pay pushed him to work harder which led to a better reputation with his boss and co-workers.

Haley Stern, a sophomore public relations and advertising major, had a similar opinion to Monroe’s and even said she would highlight that she was paid on her resume.

“I think the main thing about being paid for an internship or a job opportunity is it kind of builds credibility and shows your value … It kind of establishes yourself as someone actually in the workforce,” Stern said.

Stern holds an unpaid intern position for Omics LIVE, a non-profit career exploration program, but is paid $12.50 an hour as a writer for Critical Mass for Business.

On the other hand, Heidi Swanson, the internship coordinator at Chapman’s Career Development Center, recommended that students refrain from writing “paid” in the headlines of their resumes. Instead, she advises to mention being paid on resumes — just make it subtle, preferably in the bullet points under relative work experience.

“I definitely would hint at any future opportunities that you did have a paid internship in the interview I would say, it’s more appropriate to do that,” Swanson said.

Whatever the consensus is on the paid versus unpaid internship debate, it’s not that all students are actively seeking out one over the other. Hecker reported that his friends do not exclusively search for paid internships.

Others believe they deserve to be paid. Sergio Pliego, a senior business administration major, said he sits down and applies to around 50 internships in marathon sessions once a month, yet still admits that it is difficult to find paid opportunities. Pliego recently secured an internship that pays $14 an hour through Panther Connect — and he is glad he did.

“A lot of people, I don’t want to say try to exploit business majors, but they really try to use your undergraduate degree as justification for not paying you or paying you very little,” Pliego said.

But money does not always equal a happy ending. Tommy Nelson, a junior public relations and advertising major, found a paid opportunity on Chapman’s Jobs and Internships Facebook page, but was handed a $55 check at the end of his three-month internship. Nelson just wants honesty next time — and advises students to be upfront about pay from the get-go.

“Everyone needs to earn their keep, so if it’s unpaid I really don’t care unless it’s not in Los Angeles because I’m poor and can’t afford a train pass,”
Nelson said.


  • With all due respect, there is nothing as demoralising as an unpaid internship. Atleast, an employer should be able to provide a small stipend allowance for the students transport and meals.

  • Unpaid internships always atract less interested applicants, and employers miss out on their future potential talented employees. Employers need to understand that interns deserve some kind of appreciation for the effort they put in.

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