Guidelines for Unpaid Internships

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Compensation and academic credit policies

Due to recent litigation related to unpaid internships, we are providing the following information to employers regarding the issues of compensation and academic credit for internships. 

Each organization determines their hiring policies for interns, and we hope the following information and guidelines will be useful to you as you evaluate your organization's position on intern compensation and academic credit.  Please feel free to contact the Career Enrichment Network with any questions or comments related to academic credit requirements.


Many employers compensate interns, and we advise paying your interns if your organization is capable of doing so. Liberal Arts students are open to considering unpaid internships if they are confident that they are embarking on a good learning experience, but students who work part-time to assist with their financial needs often focus their internship searches primarily on paid positions. Not surprisingly, we typically see a higher number of strong applications for paid internships than we do for unpaid internships. A typical hourly internship wage ranges from $9.00 - $15.00/hour, depending on the level of responsibility and skill required.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, non-profit and government agencies are not required to pay interns. The Act requires, though, that for-profit organizations pay interns at least minimum wage.

In practice, the law is generally very liberally interpreted, and legal experts have come to accept the following circumstances for permitting unpaid interns:

  • The work must benefit the intern.
  • The work must be educationally relevant.
  • Both employer and student know that the monetary compensation during the internship is optional.
  • The intern cannot do work also performed by employees (thus serving as an unpaid employee); about half-time is the limit, though, for similar duties.
  • The intern is not guaranteed a job upon completion.
  • The intern cannot displace a regular employee or directly take on the duties of a fired or laid-off employee.

Please refer to the U.S. Department of Labor guidelines for more detailed information about the Fair Labor Standards Act and how it relates to hiring interns.

Academic Credit

Some employers may prefer or require their interns to register for academic credit during their internship experience.  Determination of whether or not an internship is worthy of academic credit always falls under the purview of the student's academic department, not the employing organization.  If you require credit for your interns, please be advised that the student's academic department may or may not agree that the experience is appropriate for academic credit and may request additional information of you in order to make that determination.

Grades for our internship courses are based partly on the student’s completion of various academic assignments (typically journal entries, analytical papers, and/or a portfolio) and partly on performance evaluations from the student’s on-site supervisor. Course requirements will vary from department to department, and it is the student's responsibility to ensure s/he understands and has discussed any requirements with the site supervisor.  Generally, employers are responsible for on-site supervision and periodically evaluations of the intern's performance; the academic department will assign and grade the student’s academic assignments.

The main drawback to earning academic credit for an internship is that students must pay tuition for this credit. Liberal Arts students may apply for enrichment funds to assist with defraying the cost of their internship, though support will not cover all of the internship-associated costs.

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