Six Things to Know About Unpaid Internships

Internships are one of the most important experiences that students can participate in during their college career and ranked one of the most important things employers look for when hiring recent grads, according to Anne Evans from Boise State University’s Career Center. Internships allow students to gain hands-on professional experience in their field of study and provide a mentoring environment for a future career choice.

But a recent court ruling by a federal judge in New York that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns has caused concerns and questions about unpaid internships. It is important to note that this case did not involve students working through a university internship program.

If structured properly in an educational environment, unpaid internships can be extremely valuable to a college student according to Evans, assistant director, Internships and Student Employment , but the internships must meet the following criteria established by the U.S. Department of Labor:


1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. 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;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern are both clear in their understanding that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

BSU students majoring in social work to film studies to journalism engage in unpaid internships in exchange for class credit. The university’s policy addresses unpaid internships and refers to the US Department of Labor’s  Fair Labor Standards Act for guidance.  In addition, each department has a faculty coordinator who reviews a student’s work, looks at the organization and decides whether or not to approve a specific internship, Evans said.

At the end of the internship, the faculty coordinator will require the students to write a paper or do a project about what they learned. Some faculty members also survey the companies to see how the student did during the internship.

Other options for students include job shadowing or apprenticeships.

Learn more about internships from the U.S. Department of Labor website.