With the end of the semester approaching, students are planning to spend their summers in a variety of ways. Some will spend it working to pick up office experience instead of a pay check through an unpaid internship. For many college students, however, gaining experience through an internship can be attached to a heavy price tag if they’re not compensated for their time.
The U.S. Department of Labor uses a list of specific criteria for allowing unpaid internships. The department requires that the internship benefits the intern, does not displace regular employees and ensures the employer does not derive immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.
These requirements were put in place to differentiate employees from interns, in hopes of protecting students from being overworked without compensation. Even with that legislation in place, some interns feel a gray area has formed between students and their employers.
Junior marketing major Josh Caron said he found an unpaid internship through one of his Ole Miss professors. He works with this professor to make social movement documentaries.
Caron said he accepted the internship strictly for experience but later learned he would be able to earn credit toward his cinema minor. Caron said his work matched with each requirement for unpaid internships to be legal but did feel that, at times, he was being worked outside of those lines.
“At times, it feels like we are doing some of the work my employer doesn’t want to do,” Caron said. “But, honestly, doing that work has helped me come to understand that in the film world, I’m not going to love everything I do.”
Caron said the real-world training allows him to better understand what working in the film industry will be like.
“There will be some monotonous things that have to be done, but being able to see the final project come together after completing the monotony is way worth it,” Caron said.
For journalism students, sometimes the price tag for an unpaid internship comes in the form of paying for a class through the university. Students who aren’t required to have internships to graduate are able to use an internship in place of a journalism elective course.
Associate dean of the Meek School for Journalism and New Media Charlie Mitchell said that in 2014 and 2015, nearly 70 students received academic credit through a Journalism 395 class designated for the internship practicum. Though the credit is earned through a journalism class, the internship-for-credit program is not limited to journalism students.
Marketing major Ally Lyman is receiving class credit by interning for Ryan Porter Jewelry this summer.
“I do not have to have this class credit to graduate, but I chose to do it to build my resume because it is hard to get a job in the marketing field without one,” Lyman said.
This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.