A college degree can get you far, but an internship can get you even farther. At companies like Facebook and Google, the majority of new hires have previous internship experience. The problem is, some companies expect interns to work for free. That’s a privilege few can manage. If you’re looking to get professional experience without burying yourself in debt, paid internships are a great solution.

Plus, statistics point to paid internships as being even more pivotal to career success than their unpaid counterparts. Who knew? 

Spending your winter or summer break delving into a potential career path can afford you more than future job security. Paid internships can help you: 

  • Get clear where you excel professionally
  • Expand your professional network
  • Gain important career competencies
  • Experience life in a new place

Are Internships Paid?

But how much do interns get paid? It often depends on the size of a company’s budget.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found in their 2021 Internship & Co-Op Survey that the average hourly rate for internships and co-ops was around $20 USD. 

On the other hand, cashiers earned an average wage of $12 USD an hour in 2019. Yikes. 

If you’re weighing the pros and cons of a summer internship versus a summer job at a local grocery store, internships are the clear winners. 

This means that many can realistically make more from a summer internship than a summer job at the local grocery store or café.

Benefits of Paid Internships

Besides wages, what are the other benefits of paid internships? There are quite a few!

  • Gaining hands-on professional experience
  • Connecting with potential future co-workers and employers
  • Applying concepts you learned in class to real-world tasks
  • Increasing your future ability to get hired

These benefits are backed up by stats. For example, NACE reported that in 2015, interns were successfully converted to full-time hires 51% of the time. Those odds are good.

If it’s important to intern at a company that hires from its intern pool, below is a list of companies who do just that. Rankings are from Chegg, and companies are listed in descending order of likelihood to hire prior interns.

  1. PricewaterhouseCoopers
  2. Deloitte
  4. General Electric
  5. Lockheed Martin

While the above list is not exhaustive, it is a good place to start for students looking to get a jump on securing a job.

However, keep in mind that not all internships create the same impact. Unpaid and paid opportunities are correlated with different results.

In 2016, NACE investigated how career outcomes differ between paid and unpaid opportunities. Unpaid internships were related to positive results in confirming or rejecting career paths. They were also tied to gaining a deeper understanding of coursework.

However, paid internships were significant to career development, while unpaid internships were not. 

Plus, while paid internships were tied to college grad career outcomes, unpaid internships were correlated with lower success rates securing a job post-graduation. The study actually found that unpaid internships were related to a longer job search.

What’s the Deal with Unpaid Internship?

If this is the case, then why can employers hire interns and then not pay them?

Basically, technicalities.

In the U.S., it comes down to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under this act, for-profit employers must pay employees for their work. The catch is, volunteers and interns are not considered employees. 

However, there are a few criteria interns must meet to not be considered employees. These fall under the “primary beneficiary test.” They are not hard and fast rules, but rather general guidelines that indicate whether a role warrants an employee title (according to the FLSA).

Interns who do not have employee status will:

  • Understand they will not receive wages
  • Receive training comparable to the norm in an educational environment
  • Do work that does not displace the tasks of paid employees
  • Understand that the internship is not a guarantee of a future paid position

These unpaid internships will also:

  • Accommodate interns’ studies (via schedule, etc.)
  • Only run long enough for interns to learn new skills
  • Exist in relationship to interns’ coursework

Again, host companies do not need to check off each of the above criteria to avoid paying their interns. Those are just general guidelines. However, it is good practice to keep an eye out for the above conditions during your search, especially if you are determined to find a paid opportunity.

If an internship posting does not specify whether employers will compensate hires, check the job description for language describing the opportunity as educational.

A key difference between paid and unpaid opportunities is that the former is focused on career development, while the latter is more closely tied to academic growth.

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Finding Paid Internships

There are a few ways to apply for paid internships.

Some good news is that most employers find interns through open applications. This means you can secure an opportunity even while your professional network is still growing. 

Searching Databases for Paid Internships

There’s no one perfect process for how to get an internship. Things will vary based on your experience, field, and career goals. 

However, across the board, databases where employers list full-time, part-time, and internship openings are a great jumping in point. Our internship database is a good place to begin your search.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all internship, so it’s a good idea to get clear on why you want an internship before you dive into the search. Are you looking to:

  • Test out life in a new city?
  • Put your college education into practice?
  • Gain skills you’ll need for a future role?
  • Broaden your professional network?
  • Build connections at a particular company?
  • Add to your resumĂ©?

In all likelihood, you’ll find that you want an opportunity that checks a few of the boxes above. It’s possible you will have to find a compromise between criteria, so consider spending a few minutes prioritizing your reasons for an internship.

Next, while you browse openings, keep an eye out for:

  • Location
  • Compensation
  • Duties
  • Duration
  • Relocation support
  • Company size
  • Room for growth

Depending on the list you created, you can filter for specific results. For example, if you know you want to work in New York City, you can search for jobs there. Alternatively, if you prefer collaborative roles, you may skip out on postings that emphasize that intern duties will be largely independent and self-managed.

Looking for Opportunities in Your Network

Although employers often connect with interns through open applications, it cannot hurt to lean on your network.

You can try:

  • Asking professors about internships their students have done in the past
  • Stopping by your school’s career center for internship application advice
  • Connecting with alumni (via call or email) to learn how they landed internships in college
  • Talking to mentors or adults you know whose career trajectories you admire

Sometimes, conversations will point you in the direction of a new opportunity. Other times, they’ll just give you space to learn about someone’s career path. Either way, these connections are worthwhile, because they will help you form relationships with peers and professionals.

By keeping in touch with these individuals, you will create a wider network of opportunity and support. Remember to send thank you notes (or emails) after calls. And, once you do land an internship, be sure to share the good news with the people who helped you along the way! They will be happy to cheer you on.

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What are J-1 Opportunities Abroad? 

Another viable, door-opening route to paid internships is through the United States Exchange Visitor Program. Through this initiative, college students and young professionals can live and work in the country for up to 18 months. During this time, they will complete an internship or training program.

If you want to explore your options in a different country, this could be the perfect opportunity for you.

To get started, you’ll need to begin the application process for a J-1 visa (a required component of the program). The good news is that at Global Internships, we’re experts in this process and can guide you through it with ease. 

That’s because we are an official, U.S. government-designated visa sponsor. It’s our job to screen applicants and ensure they are ready to complete an internship abroad. Once we’ve done that, we help interns get their visa and streamline the process through our online platform. Finally, we provide training before interns take off, and 24/7 emergency support while they are in the country.

We can also help students get connected with awesome opportunities. For example, our customers include many amazing host companies, like Equilar, Omnium, and Robinhood. We also offer a full placement service for students interested in business and hospitality internships.

If you have any questions about how it all works, you can visit our FAQ page.

Paid Internship Industries

Generally, J-1 internships are paid opportunities. The range of possibilities is wide; internships are not restricted to any one specific field. Students may be able to secure an opportunity within one of the following industries:

  • Accounting
  • Administration
  • Advertising
  • Architecture
  • Art 
  • Arts Management
  • Business
  • Business Development
  • Business Management
  • Commerce
  • Communications
  • Consulting
  • Customer Services
  • Engineering
  • Events 
  • Finance
  • Graphic Design
  • Hospitality
  • Human Resources
  • IT
  • Information Media
  • Law
  • Logistics
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Mathematics
  • NGO Management
  • Non-profit
  • Operations
  • Public Administration
  • Sales
  • Social Media
  • Software
  • Tourism
  • Web Design
  • Web Development

Keep in mind that most companies hire interns quite a few months before programs begin. Aim to start the internship search and J-1 visa application process about 9-12 months before you plan to travel abroad.

Budgeting extra time will give you ample room to solve any problems that appear throughout the process (while still juggling all your classes).

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Costs and Wages of Paid J-1 Internships

In addition to budgeting extra time, interns should also budget their wages while abroad. This can help prevent financial issues.

In order to make a budget, you’ll need some numbers. We’ve created a tool to do the math for you, so that you can get straight to the results. It’s called the Intern Pay Calculator. Simply fill out your program duration, hourly rate, and the amount of hours you’ll work each week. The tool will deliver your gross pay, net pay, and total estimated wages. 

For example, an intern working 35 hour weeks who earns $23 USD an hour would earn the following wages: 

  • $805.00 weekly (gross pay)
  • $660.10 weekly (net pay)

At the end of a 26-week program, this intern would receive $17,162.60 USD in total estimated wages. Figuring out these quantities is critical to building a functional budget.

Budgeting Abroad 101

The next step to effective budgeting is to determine your current spending trends. You can do this manually, by keeping your receipts and tracking online payments for a month. However, it’s probably easiest to delegate this task to an online tool.

Many banks track your spending for you. You can access this information by logging into your online account and looking for a tab that says “My Spending” or something similar. Make a note of what your big categories of spending are.

These categories will likely include things like: 

  • Rent
  • Food 
  • Personal expenses (toiletries, etc.)
  • Transportation 
  • Entertainment 
  • Savings 
  • Travel 

However, if you see any other notable categories, you can include those in your internship budget as well.

Some people prefer creating their own spreadsheets. But, if you’re not an Excel pro, you can also find a customizable budgeting template online to fill out on your computer or on paper.

Now that you’ve gathered all your materials, it’s time to divide your monthly (or weekly) earnings between your budgeting categories. Throughout this process, you may need to do a bit of research on average rent and grocery prices in the city you will be living in. This will help to create a realistic budget. Make sure you are honest with yourself about your spending (as well as what you can afford) while working on your budget. 

While this is a labor-intensive process, you’ll be saving your future self a lot of trouble by creating financial limits and goals ahead of time.

Filing Taxes Abroad

Whether you complete a paid internship at home or abroad, you’ll need to file taxes. If you plan to complete your internship in your current country of residence, you may already be familiar with the process. 

However, if you’re headed to the States for the first time, we understand that you may be a bit concerned about navigating a new tax system. We’ve got you covered.

First, figure out if you are actually required to file taxes in the U.S. Many J-1 interns are exempt from this process. Criteria can include:

  • Being in the U.S. for under 183 days
  • Having closer financial connections to a different country
  • Coming from a country with a tax treaty with the U.S.

If you are required to file taxes, it’s important to know what taxes interns are liable for while working in the U.S. These include federal income tax, state income tax, and city income tax. J-1 interns are not liable for taxes related to social security, Medicare, or federal unemployment, because they are not eligible to receive these benefits.

Many host employers deduct taxes from interns’ paychecks throughout the year to keep things simple. If this is the case at your new role, let your company know what taxes you do not need to pay, so they can deduct the correct amount.

You will file a tax return for your U.S. internship in the year directly following it. The main step to this process is to submit a 1040-NR form (Nonresident Alien Income Tax Form). Some individuals choose to work with professional tax services to eliminate potential mistakes.

The good news is that most J-1 visa interns who file tax returns in the U.S. actually receive tax refunds back from the government. 

Remember: Many Internships Are Paid Opportunities! 

If you’re still deciding how to spend your next academic break, we hope this guide has helped clarify whether an internship is for you. And remember, internships can be paid opportunities. This means that you can expand your network and learn marketable skills while also earning a paycheck. 

Plus, paid internships are correlated with positive job outcomes for recent graduates. 

Whether you’ve been itching to gain professional experience or to see more of the world, paid J-1 internships are a great option. No matter your desired field, we’re sure there is an awesome opportunity out there for you.

If you’d like to learn more about working with us as a visa sponsor, you can request information here. You can also contact your local Global Internships office to learn more.

For more helpful information about internships, check out the articles below:

Jan 18, 2022
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