Unpaid Internships Are Exclusionary

Paola Nagovitch

With application deadlines for the most competitive summer internships coming up, I cannot help but feel disillusioned with a lot of companies that offer an array of attractive internship opportunities with one significant flaw: they are unpaid. While I acknowledge that this is not a reality for all students, especially at NYU, a lot of students do rely on internships, on-campus jobs or other part-time jobs as their sole source of income. Unpaid internships hinder students’ ability to sustain themselves, promote a culture of privilege and reduce diversity in the workplace.

In 2013, Citi and Seventeen Magazine found that four out of five American students work their way through college, with 18 percent of students paying for their own tuition and 31 percent paying for their own housing expenses. On average, NYU awards incoming freshmen $37,000 per year in scholarships. The cost of full-time tuition, which increases every year while scholarship amounts remain fixed, is $25,232 for the 2017-2018 academic year for the College of Arts and Science. Realistically, the cost of living in New York City is expensive, as are NYU residence halls. While the difference between the cost of tuition and the average scholarship seems great, let’s not forget the actual cost of attendance. This includes books, transportation, meal plans, housing, fees and other miscellaneous expenses. For students such as myself who despite receiving significant financial aid still have to cover out-of-pocket expenses, internships and part-time jobs are crucial. As students, we are encouraged and often required to intern, yet many internships are unpaid. How can students be expected to intern for no compensation while they have to sustain themselves? The hypocrisy of unpaid internships relies on the antiquated and baseless notion that students don’t have to work for a living.

Unpaid internships force students to choose between subsistence and supposed educational and professional advantages. This creates a culture of privilege surrounding internships that some students, by the basis of necessity, don’t get to participate in. Unpaid internships marginalize groups of students who are not wealthy, well-connected or privileged. Instead, industries that rely on unpaid internships for cheap labor promote a workplace dominated by wealthy, upper-class individuals while those in lower socioeconomic groups are subjected to implicit discrimination through limited opportunities. The educational, professional and assumed eventual financial prosperity that unpaid internships advertise therefore becomes exclusive to a certain proportion of students.

Internships should not be a privilege, and industries should not be complacent in the marginalization of students who cannot afford to accept unpaid jobs. Unpaid internships ignore the economic barriers some students face. Upward social mobility and educational progression can’t just be encouraged theoretically. Access to opportunities should be equally distributed among students, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 13 print edition. Email Paola Nagovitch at [email protected]

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