There has been a growing national debate over unpaid internships and their legality.
Recently, a former intern for Harper’s Bazaar sued its parent company, Hearst Corporation, for violating the federal and state wage and hour because Hearst did not pay her even though she worked full-time hours.
As the spring semester draws to an end, many Virginia Tech students are faced with this a similar struggle.
Students who choose to take an unpaid internship face the possibility of receiving university credit hours as a form of compensation. However, this forces students to enroll in the university’s summer semester and pay standard tuition and fees even though they aren’t being compensated for the work.
“Who would in their right mind would think of doing an unpaid internship, then pay to enroll in a class for a thousand dollars? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” said Stuart Mease, director of undergraduate programs for Pamplin College of business.
So why is it that students seeking for-credit internships need to pay university fees on top of their unpaid work? And what alternatives are available to students to reduce these financial burdens?
Mease—and others—answer these questions below.
Why do I have to pay for an unpaid internship?
There are actually a variety of factors that determine whether or not a student has to pay Virginia Tech for an unpaid internship. These include: part-time versus full-time status at the university, which semester the student chooses to work, individual department requirements, the employer’s internship policies and the student’s choice.
If a student is enrolled full time during the fall, spring or each summer session, an unpaid internship will not produce additional costs.
“Fall and spring undergraduate tuition is capped at 12 credit hours. If a student takes more than 12 credit hours they do not pay for those additional hours,” said Ken Smith, the assistant provost for finance at Virginia Tech.
This also applies to each summer session course, where tuition costs are capped at five credit hours per session. If a student is enrolled full time during each session, then they will not pay additional costs for their unpaid internship in the summer.
“If you take six hours of class and three hours of internship in a single summer session, you are not billed for the additional three hours. If you take six hours in first summer and then three hours in second summer you would be billed for the three hours,” Smith said.
Individual departments — such as human nutrition, foods and exercise — require an internship at some point during a student’s collegiate career.
“Anyone in pre-health wants the experience. Everyone is trying to do pre-health things so they’re going to go for the experience over a lecture,” said David Pry, a senior HNFE major at Tech.
If a student considers obtaining an unpaid internship at any point, they should check in with their department to see what the department’s policies are in relation to internships.
Sometimes, employers require a student to receive an academic credit as compensation during their unpaid internship. This may be the biggest problem a student faces, especially if the student is seeking an internship in the summer.
If the student isn’t enrolled at Tech during the unpaid internship in the summer, the student will need to pay the university for their credit hours. Students should make sure to check with potential employers and ask about their internship policies.