‘Unpaid internships’ shouldn’t mean you have to pay

By Patrick Hoff


Joel Kramer/Flickr
Joel Kramer/Flickr

The summer is meant to be a time away from school. Some students choose to work a summer job, while some decide to spend every day at the beach. Some ambitious students get internships in their field of study to keep them busy over the summer, a practice that is highly recommended by a variety of instructors.

The trouble with internships, however, is that they’re often unpaid, meaning you’re doing part-time work for no compensation. Ignoring financial worries, this seems pretty unfair – until you consider that the University of Massachusetts allows you to get credits for your internships.

Last spring, I was ecstatic when I got a summer internship at The Daily Hampshire Gazette. As a journalism major, I was excited to move my skills from the classroom and from The Daily Collegian to a full-time newsroom where I would be reporting on a variety of issues.

I marched into an adviser’s office to fill out any paperwork that I would need to receive credit for my work, and she pulled out a form with the words “Continuing and Professional Education” at the top. I was confused, because I knew that CPE was a program for people who couldn’t fit a traditional college schedule into their lives. Nevertheless, I looked at the form and listened as the adviser explained the process of getting credit for my internship.

I was on board until she told me it would cost $200 per credit for the summer.

“Do you need the credits to graduate?” she asked me, as I looked at her genuinely confused.

I shook my head, and she recommended that I only sign up to get two credits per semester so as to save myself money.

When she was done talking, I thanked her, and left her office to process the information. Essentially what UMass was requiring me to do was enroll as a student over the summer – as if enrolling in 30 credits in the spring and fall weren’t enough.

For the record, I don’t blame my adviser at all. She merely is doing her job and walking me through the process of how I would go about getting credit for my summer internship.

Now $400 is barely half of what in-state students pay just for tuition each semester, so I can see how the University is spinning it. But students rack up bills over $20,000 for the privilege to attend UMass during the fall and spring semesters, and teachers are always telling us the importance of internships. So why are we punished when we try to put our experience towards our education?

After consideration, I elected to foment a personal rebellion: UMass would not receive a dime from me for this internship, but I would glean important experience from my time at the Gazette. I could still put my time there on my resume, and I could still learn a lot from my time in their newsroom – it just wouldn’t be on my academic record.

For me, this was a fine solution. I have enough room in my final two semesters to complete all my necessary credits. But there are some students that can’t academically afford to do an internship over the summer and not get credit for it. They have to gather whatever they can in order to complete their studies.

And sometimes these students can’t financially afford to attend UMass, taking out massive loans to attend the flagship university of the Commonwealth. How is it fair to ask them to pay for credits on an unpaid internship? Even if they can afford it, the principle of the matter is unfair – students shouldn’t have to shell out more money for something that instructors often label as a requirement for getting a job after college.

I still have the paperwork my adviser gave me, completely blank except for the fields she signed and filled in. To anyone who asks about my internship, I rave about how much I learned, how much I loved working in a full-time newsroom and working alongside professional reporters on a daily basis. And if the inquirer happens to be a UMass student, I warn them against the twisted system of getting credit for a summer internship.

Patrick Hoff is managing editor at the Daily Collegian and can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Hoff_Patrick16.