Only PAID internships lead to job offers?

by Grace

Is it a myth that most college internships lead to jobs?

According to Jordan Weissmann writing in The Atlantic, it’s only the paid internships that are likely to result in jobs after graduation.  Students who worked at unpaid internships did not seem to receive any advantage in securing job offers, faring only slightly better than students with no internships at all.


Additional details:

  • Among students who found jobs, former unpaid interns were actually offered less money than those with no internship experience.
  • … unpaid interns fared roughly the same or worse on the job market compared to non-interns across a variety of fields, including business, communications, engineering, English, and political science.
  • … paid and unpaid interns had about the same distribution of GPA’s.

Here are some things to consider when looking at the correlation between unpaid internships and fewer job offers.

  • If a company is willing to pay an intern, it might follow that they consider that person a stronger candidate for a full-time job offer.
  • It’s “possible that there are inherent differences between the kinds of students who take unpaid internships and their peers”.  The person who is willing to work for free may be less likely to have the skills and qualities needed for a job offer.
  • The GPA statistics cited are too broad to draw conclusions about competency.  Grade averages are partly a function of major, with science and engineering students typically earning lower grades than those of education and language students.
  • Many of those unpaid internships could be at places that simply do not hire in significant numbers, but rely on unpaid volunteers for much of their work.  These could be non-profit entities such as charities, museums, or political organizations.

Causation not correlation
One take-away is that while internships may figure prominently in enhancing the chances of securing employment after graduation, in many cases it could be more a matter of correlation instead of causation.  Maybe it’s simply the case that the strongest job candidates are likely to get both the best internships and the best jobs.



3 Comments to “Only PAID internships lead to job offers?”

  1. That is interesting and sort of unexpected. One possible explanation is that unpaid internships, by law, cannot involve work that would normally be done by real employees. That means that companies have to come up with some sort of make work projects for interns, and those projects may not be as valuable in terms of experience as the projects a paid intern would be doing. For example, my students want internships that involve actual programming because that is the experience they need. But it seems like the unpaid internships all have them doing sort of peripheral things that do not involve programming. A a result, many of our students end up doing paid internships instead. That may be another factor in those results – paid internships are more common in fields where there are more open jobs to fill.


  2. That makes sense.

    “unpaid internships, by law, cannot involve work that would normally be done by real employees”

    In the case of non-profit employers, this is less meaningful because they have volunteers doing all sorts of “real” work. I wonder if you’ve seen this in your experience.


  3. Our students generally do not intern at non profits. They intern at a number of large media companies – those are unpaid, and quite frankly, less valuable to them – at least that is what the students tell me – and at high tech startups – usually paid – and at the large financial companies. There are efforts to connect CS students with nonprofit projects – Google’s Summer of Code is the most famous – but these are often wildly competitive, and are not integrated with the academic internship world at all.


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