For students who must intern in order to graduate, a paycheck is not guaranteed

Leila Ruiz

As former unpaid interns take major employers, such as Conde Naste and Fox Searchlight Pictures, to court for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, UT students must also consider working for free, because for some, internships are a graduation requirement.

Many degree plans at UT, including advertising and business, require students to participate in at least one internship in order to graduate. For some students, this means participating in an unpaid internship. According to a 2013 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 48 percent of all graduating students polled had interned without pay.

“When I was looking for internships, I thought, ‘These are awesome — but all of them are unpaid,’” said Amanda Marquette, international relations and global studies freshman. “I felt that I needed to be compensated by money.”

Because Marquette could not find a paid internship in her desired field, she chose to look for work at a paid summer job instead. 

Isabella Cunningham, advertising professor and department chair, said the department works closely with students and employers to ensure that internships give students educational experiences comparable to UT courses. Students are also required to do readings, take quizzes, meet with their advisers and complete evaluations of their experiences.

“I don’t like the fact that [students] are not being paid,” Cunningham said. “We try to make sure the students are doing the jobs they want to do and jobs that will help them in the future.”

While Cunningham said she discourages students from accepting unpaid internships, she would not turn down course credit for a student interning in a position relevant to his studies. Furthermore, if a student said he was unable to attain his learning goals at his internship in his final evaluation, that internship program will not be eligible to count for credit in the next semester.

Robert Vega, director of Liberal Arts Career Services, said while he is unaware of any school-wide initiatives to financially compensate students completing unpaid internships, he thinks the option of course credit allows students more time flexibility.

“The [internship] course provides three credit hours that may count toward the degree, which frees the student from having to complete 15 or more credit hours in a semester plus an internship, all while working and studying,” Vega said.