Unpaid internships are a reality for NYU students—at least for now. Despite campaigns, petitions, and angry blog posts, there will be a staggering number of inexperienced students trying to enter the workforce this fall completely uncompensated.
That might change soon, but not today. On Wasserman’s CareerNet, there are 3,428 internship listings. Of those, 1,098 are listed as “unpaid (in compliance with NYU & DOL guidelines)” while 1,093 are for academic credit. 1,004 are paid, while only one is for both paid and for credit. That means 64% of all Wasserman internship listings are unpaid.
We know that unpaid internships are sometimes illegal, devalue labor and contribute to income inequality since only comfortable kids can work for free. But it’s time to establish guidelines on your end. The lobbyists and petitioners can deal with changing the system—but you are only in control of yourself. If you’re going to do unpaid internships—since we know you will—here’s our idea for a rulebook:
1. Don’t work for credit. Companies hope to get away with unpaid internships by “compensating” you with course credit. (Legally that’s not quite right.) In return, NYU gets to claim relevance in the global job market. Being at NYU is an absolutely great way to get your foot in the door, but it’s a privilege of position, not of transaction. You already pay to be here—that’s the only thing worth paying for.
So if you are in CAS, one credit costs $1,251. For-credit internships are paid—but it’s the other way around.
School is a worthwhile and enriching experience. Don’t use your precious, limited and phenomenally expensive credits to pay to work for free.
2. If you’re going to work for credit, don’t you dare do it in summer. Normal tuition shoulders the absurd cost-per-credit of an internship, but if you want to do a credit-only internship during summer, you will have to actively pay NYU for the privilege to work. That makes no sense.
3. Ask for money. This is the most important one. Like, super insanely important. Because one day, you’ll be a real human being—and while there are exceptions in the world, most likely you’ll need to get money to eat. The biggest problem with unpaid internships is that they keep kids from learning how to ask for money. Internships treat labor like an expectation, and students—brought up to think of money as embarrassing and a given—can be counted on to never raise the question. But an important part of an internship is learning basic skill sets.
So here’s a crazy idea. Ask for twenty bucks at the start. Flat. Say, “I’m trying to establish a value to my work, and I’d like to think that I can bring $20 of value to your company over the course of a semester.”
See, it’s not about the money. It’s about the ability to ask for money. If you can afford an unpaid internship, you can afford a $20 compensation. If it sounds insulting, consider you’re being paid $20.00 less than $20.00.
It’s a small enough value that an employer would only reject it out of philosophical reasons. And if your employer says “screw you,” you’ve learned two important things: 1) they don’t respect your value enough to treat you like an employee, and 2) you do NOT want to work for that asshole.
And who knows? Once you establish a value to yourself, you might find you like it. You might find you’ll never do an unpaid internship again.