Vocate Blog

Learning and Growth For College Students Through Unpaid Internships

What frequently comes up when I am applying for internships on various career platforms is: what are the policies in place to protect college students from being underpaid or free laborers? I struggle to find a paid internship; I apply everywhere and maybe hear back from employers that offer unpaid internships or take an unpaid internship to build your “experience” and resume. The line has to be drawn somewhere, so college students can gain valuable experience and a paycheck that helps them through the financial stress of even being in college.

Adding Value to College Students’ Unpaid Internships

The Department of Labor (DOL) offers a primary beneficiary test, which determines if a worker is an unpaid intern or employee with a minimum wage rate. The test consists of seven guidelines that emphasize the internships’ learning curriculum. This could lead to a standard set across the nation on (un)paid internships having an educational emphasis in the program.

As a college student, I think these guidelines are important because I do not want to see my peers feeling like their professional and career development remain stagnant. I want my fellow peers to feel excited and enthusiastic about stepping into their internship position. I want my friends and future interns to have a memorable learning experience outside of the classroom, where they can bridge what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their work. I hope the skills they learn or improve in their unpaid internship are transferable to their next (paid) internship. Although I believe all interns should be paid a stipend or hourly wage,

I think the DOL’s guidelines ensures how unpaid interns are engaged learners rather than mindless workers.

With these new guidelines, this means that, “if at least 51 percent of the benefits go to the intern, he or she is the main beneficiary and does not have to be paid” wrote attorney Charles Krugel. Employers can publicize clearly if an internship is unpaid or paid, and ensure recent graduates and college students can have a hands-on learning experience.

Internship candidates can have a better understanding on which internship is the right fit for them.

Vocate Advocating for College Students in Unpaid Internships

Vocate’s mission is to “unlock human potential,” specifically your human potential. By writing this blogpost, I want you to better prepare yourself on what to look for in your internship whether it is paid or unpaid. With this information, Vocate is providing the tools and information for employers and college students to make the recruiting and hiring process more efficient, while also matching people to meaningful positions that help students and employers learn from one another. The team at Vocate is dedicated to supporting your career and professional development. The job search is a long, tedious and sometimes complicated process with all these litigation and policies. Hopefully, this platform can lead to a clearer understanding of what employers and students need to do to put you on your journey of career and discovery.


U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

Alexander Huynh

PR Intern at Vocate | Senior at USF majoring in Communication Studies and Critical Diversity Studies | Always in the mood for iced coffee and/or ice cream

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