In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Unpaid Versus Paid Internships:Group Membership Makes the Difference
  • John Zilvinskis (bio), Jennifer Gillis (bio), and Kelli K. Smith (bio)

Given that paid internships often lead to higher paying positions postgraduation and that women continue to earn less than men for the same position despite their level of education (Women's Bureau, 2017), we were interested to understand whether women and other underserved groups were more or less likely to participate in paid or unpaid internships in college compared with their peers. Colleges and universities provide opportunities and partnerships for underserved student groups to begin their careers on equal footing; therefore, exploring student characteristics associated with participating in paid versus unpaid internships yields valuable information for career counseling and internship programs. There are important and differential outcomes associated with paid compared to unpaid internships; specifically, paid internships are likely to yield more positive short-term career success (e.g., starting salary, timing of job offer) compared to unpaid internships (Guarise & Kostenblatt, 2018). Research findings by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE; 2013) indicated a positive correlation between paid internships and job offers received before graduation, but unpaid internships were found to have little or no relationship with this measure of short-term success. Further research by NACE (2019) found that while there was not necessarily a significant influence on measures of long-term career success, paid interns are much more likely to have accepted a full-time offer in the shorter-term than are unpaid interns or those that have never interned, and students with paid internship experience received nearly 50 percent more job offers than those who had either unpaid or no internship experience.

Interestingly, undergraduates have often reported that pay is not a highly ranked factor when pursuing an internship. Specifically, students reported a preference for a higher quality unpaid internship over a lower quality paid one (Capek, Klein, & Gassman, 2017); however, in the same study, the vast majority of students indicated that they would need at least one paid part-time job (or other form of financial support, such as parents) if participating in an unpaid internship. When considering student background, there is evidence that first-generation students are more likely than their continuing-generation peers to participate in an unpaid internship, while at the same time first-generation students may even benefit more from internship experiences than their counterparts (Salvadge, 2019). The current study adds to the literature by taking advantage of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE; 2018) Quality [End Page 510] High Impact Practices (HIP) Experiences itemset in which students were asked about their internship experiences to reveal more about the representation of students among paid and unpaid internships. The research question guiding this study was: What aspects of student background, academic major, or institution type are related to students participating in paid internships?


Just as with other areas of career management, social capital is worthy of consideration within this context of college students and internship access. Social capital refers to the social relationships in which benefits or resources are shared within relationships (Burt, 1998). Resources can range from sharing of information about opportunities to a willingness to use influence to impact employment decisions for personal contacts. As a result, social capital facilitates upward mobility (Lin, 2001), and social capital resources also affect the likelihood of college students' setting and achieving their career goals (Guiffrida, 2005).

Ionnides and Loury (2004) identified friends and family as important sources of referrals or information on job openings during job searches. Some parents can utilize networks to provide their children with especially useful employment information when they seek a job and even directly provide work internships or other forms of work experience (Capek et al., 2017). The theory of social capital informs our study by providing focus for aspects of identity to include in our model: groups traditionally underserved in aspects of higher education, such as women, underrepresented races and ethnicities, and first-generation and transfer students. The theory of social capital provides credence to the idea that student background may be related to participating in paid internships as opposed to ones without pay; of course, we accounted for other covariates (academic major...


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pp. 510-516
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