We've all heard the horror stories—interns working for free, or close to it. But is that really the norm? How much do interns get paid, on average?
Do interns really fit all of the negative stereotypes?
The truth of the matter is that there are plenty of great internships out there that pay their interns very well–but there are also plenty of bad ones.
And many people who find themselves in bad internships aren't looking in the right places.
In this article, we will examine the intern landscape in-depth and help you figure out how to land the best internship possible–and get paid what you're worth.
What's the Deal With Unpaid Internships?
Historically, internships have been seen as a way for young people to get their foot in the door of their chosen field.
In exchange for working for free (or very little), interns would gain valuable experience and connections that would help them later on in their career.
What makes unpaid internships legal?
The answer, unfortunately, is not as simple as we would like it to be. It depends on a number of factors, including the type of internship, the type of company, and the duties of the intern.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law that sets standards for minimum wage and overtime pay.
According to the Department of Labor, for an internship to be unpaid, it must meet all of the following six criteria:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Different types of compensation for unpaid interns include:
- Academic Credit: In some cases, an internship may be able to count towards school credit. This is most common with internships that are part of a structured program through a university or college.
- Stipends: A stipend is a set amount of money that is given to an intern on a consistent basis (similar to a salary). This can help offset the cost of living expenses while the intern is working.
- Free housing: Sometimes, an internship may include free or discounted housing. This is most common with internships located in high-cost areas, such as New York City or San Francisco.
It is worth noting that unpaid interns are also compensated in other ways, such as with job experience, access to a network of professionals, and skills development.
The Rise of Paid Internships In an Increasingly Complex Workforce
You'd think that with the rise of software and process automation, today's workforce would be much simpler. But this isn't the case in today's jobs.
Across the board, job roles are becoming increasingly complicated. Many workers need to have a much broader skillset than they did in the past.
What this means for interns is that the skills they are expected to have–and the experience they are expected to gain–are also becoming more complex.
In other words, internships are no longer about making coffee and getting lunch for the boss. They are now an essential part of many workers' career development. As a result of this, paid internships have become much more common.
But the benefit to this is that more and more internships turn into full-time job offers. Around 70% of employers offer their interns full-time jobs after an internship program.
And the ones that don't result in full-time employment often lead to job offers elsewhere down the road.
Paid vs Unpaid Internships: The Pros and Cons
There are pros and cons to both paid and unpaid internships.
It's important to evaluate your own situation and what you're looking to get out of an internship before making a decision.
The Benefits of Paid Internships
Paid internships are, well, paid. Interns who are paid for their work often have an easier time paying for living expenses since they’re compensated for their time. This means that they also enjoy a better work/life balance–even if their roles are more demanding.
For those who live without parental support or don't have the time to juggle a part-time job, a paid internship might be the only viable option.
Additionally, paid internships can provide more valuable experience than unpaid internships. Employers are often more willing to invest in training interns who are being paid for their work, and these interns often have more opportunities to network and build their skillset.
As a result, paid internships can lead to better job prospects after graduation. Another benefit to paid internships is that they can help reduce student debt. Students who take on paid internships often have a lower student loan burden because they can earn money to help pay for their education.
The Drawbacks to Paid Internships
Paid internships are often seen as a win-win situation. Students get real-world experience in their chosen field, while employers get cheap labor. However, there are some potential drawbacks to this arrangement.
Paid internships are much more competitive than their unpaid counterparts. Because they are paid, employers often receive hundreds or even thousands of applications for a single internship. This can make it difficult for students to stand out from the crowd.
Additionally, some employers use paid internships as a way to avoid hiring entry-level employees. These internships often involve low-level tasks that someone with no experience could easily perform. In other words, some paid internships might not provide the valuable experience students are looking for.
For this reason, it's essential for prospective interns to vet the company and the internship before applying.
In rare cases, paid internships can lead to the exploitation of workers. In some cases, interns are given excessive or unreasonable workloads, and they may be expected to work long hours for little pay.
The Benefits of Unpaid Internships
Unpaid internships sound like a bad deal, but they can actually be quite beneficial for students. The biggest advantage of unpaid internships is that they are often easier to get than paid internships.
Because they are unpaid, employers are often more willing to take a chance on interns with no experience. This means that students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to gain experience in their chosen field can do so through an unpaid internship.
Unpaid internships can also provide students with more flexibility than paid internships. Employers of unpaid interns are often more willing to work around school schedules and holidays. This can be a major benefit for students who want to gain experience but still have the ability to focus on their studies.
Some students might also feel like they learn more in an unpaid internship. Because they are not paid, interns often have more time to shadow experienced employees and learn about the company's inner workings.
Finally, a few employers offer perks to their unpaid interns, such as free housing or a stipend for travel expenses. These benefits can offset some of the costs of an unpaid internship, making it more affordable for students.
It is important to note that plenty of paid internships offer these same opportunities. It is up to the individual student to decide whether an unpaid internship is right for them.
The Drawbacks of Unpaid Internships
The clear drawback of unpaid internships is that they're working with no financial compensation. This can be a major issue for students who are already struggling to pay for their education.
Additionally, some students might need to work during their internship in order to support themselves, which can make it difficult to get the most out of the experience.
Another argument against unpaid internships is that they favor those who come from wealthy backgrounds. Students who can afford to work for free are more likely to get the opportunity to do so. This may create a cycle of privilege that can be difficult to break.
Many also consider unpaid internships to be exploitative since the company is benefiting from the intern's labor without providing any compensation. This is a valid concern, and it's something that prospective interns should keep in mind before accepting an unpaid position.
So, How Much Do Interns Get Paid?
The national average paid internship salary is $12.88 per hour, according to Indeed. This accounts for internships at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations across the entire United States.
And while it is seemingly low, federal minimum wage is increasing across the country, with some states having a minimum wage as high as $15 per hour. This means that future interns can expect to earn more than previous data suggests.
So how much do internships usually pay? This varies depending on industry and geographic location.
For example, internships in the engineering and computer science industries tend to pay much higher than internships in the arts or social sciences.
And if you live in Arkansas, you probably won't find an internship that pays you as much as one in New York City, San Francisco, or San Diego.
In most cases, paid internships salary will vary based on the cost of living in the area where the internship is located.
The best way to find out how much you can expect to make as an intern is to research companies in your industry and geographic area.
Industries With the Highest Paid Internships Salary
While the national average is seemingly low and the cost of living must be taken into account, some companies pay their interns more than a college-educated, full-time employee could expect to earn.
According to Glassdoor's annual report, here are the industries that are doubling (and tripling) down on their internship programs:
- Investment banking
The game development industry has been growing rapidly in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down.
This industry is known for its high paid internships, with many companies offering salaries that are far above the national average.
The median monthly pay for Roblox interns, for example, is $9,667. If this internship were full-time, that would translate to an annual salary of $116,000.
The investment banking industry is another field that offers high salaries to its interns.
Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the world, offers a summer internship program that pays a pro-rata salary of $85,000 per year.
BlackRock also pays their interns a hefty amount–$6,917 per month–which comes out to an annual salary of $83,000.
And if their interns become full-time hires after the internship program, they'll make over six figures right out of college.
The consulting industry is another one that offers high-paying internships.
McKinsey & Company, one of the largest management consulting firms in the world, pays their interns an average of $6,700 per month.
Bain & Company, another top consulting firm, pays its interns a median monthly salary of $7,125.
However, it is important to remember that consulting internships are more competitive than many other types of internships, so the pay is commensurate with the experience and skills required.
It should come as no surprise that the tech industry offers some of the highest-paying internships.
Many tech companies, such as Google, Salesforce, Uber, and Amazon, offer internship programs that pay their interns quite well.
Google pays its interns a median salary of $6,454 per month, while Salesforce, Uber, and Amazon pay their interns upwards of $8,000 each month.
Other companies that pay their interns very well include Meta, HubSpot, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Oracle.
Other Valuable Internships to Consider
If you aren't a software developer, a financier, or you don't have any interest in working for a Fortune 500 company, there are still plenty of other internships that can be valuable.
Here are a few internships that can help you get your foot in the door and start your career off on the right track.
Virtual internships are a great way to get experience in your desired field without relocating. And with the current state of the world, they're more popular than ever.
Many companies offer virtual internships, and the pay can be just as good as if you were working on-site.
If you can't find the right internship at one of your dream companies, try checking out a virtual internship with them instead.
One type of internship that can be extremely valuable is a startup internship.
While these internships don't usually pay as much as some of the other types of internships on this list, they offer something that most other internships don't: the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a company.
If you intern at a startup that takes off, you'll have the opportunity to grow with the company and potentially earn equity as it expands.
In some cases, they can even turn into full-time jobs, and quick career advancement since startups have much more upward mobility.
These are great for those who want to work with children or go into education.
Teaching internships are sometimes unpaid, but they always offer the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the classroom.
This type of internship can also lead to a full-time job after graduation, as many school districts offer teacher positions to those who have interned with them.
If you're interested in a career in research, a research internship is a great way to get started.
Many research internships are unpaid, but they offer the chance to work with some of the top researchers in your field and learn valuable skills.
And if you impress your supervisors, you may even be able to land a job at the company after you graduate.
In most cases, medical internships are a rite of passage for those who want to be doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals.
And while they don't pay as much as some of the other types of internships on this list, they offer the chance to gain valuable experience in the medical field.
You'll have the opportunity to work with patients, learn from doctors, and see what it's really like to work in a hospital.
Lots of internships in the medical field are unpaid, especially when you're starting out. You'll almost certainly work long hours for little or no pay in the beginning. But if you stick with it, you can eventually land a well-paid job in the medical field.
If you want to practice law, you'll eventually need to intern at a law firm. Many law schools offer paid internships, and there are also several private firms that offer paid internships to law students.
In most cases, you'll be working with experienced lawyers and learning the ropes of the legal profession.
And if you impress your supervisors, you may even be offered a job at the firm after you graduate.
Premium hospitality internships are a perfect fit for anyone interested in a hospitality industry career.
While these internships don't always pay as much as some of the other types of internships on this list, they offer the chance to gain valuable experience in the hospitality industry.
You'll have the opportunity to work with customers, learn about different aspects of the hospitality industry, and see what it's really like to work in a luxury hotel or resort.
And the best part is that some internships can pay up to $30 per hour!
How Interns Can Get the Most Value Out of Internships
There are plenty of ways for interns to get the most out of their internships, including:
- Asking for more responsibility
- Documenting their accomplishments
- Keeping in touch with their network
- Exploring different departments
- Attending company events
In addition, remote and other types of flexible internships are becoming increasingly common.
This allows interns to gain valuable experience while still being able to maintain some level of control over their schedules. It can also be a great way to save money on transportation expenses.
How to Find the Best Internship for You
When it comes to landing an internship, the process can be competitive. Especially if you don't know where to look or how to execute on your job search, the process can be daunting.
One of the main reasons that some students and individuals who are early in their careers don't pursue internships is because they don't know where to look.
This is especially true for international students who are unfamiliar with the US work culture and how internships work here.
Here are some tips on finding the best internship for you:
- Start by looking at your personal and professional interests. Research their internship programs if you have a specific industry or company in mind.
- Identify the type of company you want to work for. Plenty of different types of companies are out there, so it's important to narrow your search.
- Research companies that fit your criteria. If you're willing to do heavy research into a company before reaching out, you'll automatically stand out from the crowd.
- Reach out to your network. Applications are dead. If you truly care about landing a paid internship to launch your career, you need to do personal outreach. Find a company member and email them or connect with them on LinkedIn.
- Go for multiple internships. If you put your eggs in one basket, you risk having them all break. Diversify your applications and go for multiple internships to increase your chances of getting at least one.
- Be prepared for internship interview questions. You'll need to interview well to land the internship you want. Be confident but genuine in your demeanor.
How International Students Can Get an Internship in the US
If you are an international student who wants to complete an internship in the United States, you will need to obtain a J-1 visa. The J-1 visa is a type of student exchange visa that allows students to intern in the United States for a specific period of time.
To be eligible for a J-1 visa, you must be enrolled in an academic or training program recognized by your home country's government.
There are a few ways to find a sponsor, but the most common is through an internship placement program. Once you have been accepted, the program will provide you with a DS-2019 form required to apply for the J-1 visa sponsorship.
The J-1 Intern visa is valid for up to 12 months; the J-1 Trainee visa is valid for up to 18 months.
How to Get J-1 Visa Sponsorship
Our purpose at Intrax Global Internships is to provide a lifetime of high-quality educational and career experiences that link people and cultures, stimulate personal development, and prepare individuals for worldwide citizenship.
Through our programs, interns from all corners of the globe have the opportunity to experience life in a range of nations and sectors. Interns acquire work experience across borders while businesses gain a new global perspective on business.
As a U.S. Department of State designated J-1 Visa sponsor, we make the process easier so you don't have to go through it alone.
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