Every summer, students at universities across the nation search for the perfect summer internship. They use it as a way to break into their desired industry and gain career experience. A summer internship can add a lot of value to a student’s rèsumè, which helps when applying for jobs their senior year. But many students aren’t lucky enough to snag an internship in Chicago or New York, and they’re left wondering what to do with their summer. So, how important is an internship?

The point of an internship is to gain experience in your desired field of work, but there are other ways to do that aside from a summer internship. There are many community service jobs or programs held during the summer that can add value to your rèsumè. When employers look at a rèsumè, they want to see that a potential employee used their downtime in the summer in an effective manner. Whether that includes a summer internship, a mission trip or another creative way to improve your skills, that’s what employers are looking for. If you can talk about it in an interview and make yourself stand out from the rest of the crowd, then you’ve spent your time wisely.

But if your heart is set on interning at the top fashion magazine or the biggest investment bank on Wall Street, that’s a very real possibility. There are a lucky few every year who land paid internships at these companies and are able to turn them into full-time job offers. But these companies are increasingly using students’ desire to work for them as a way to gain free labor. Many more internships are becoming unpaid, yet students are still willing to take them, even if it means going into debt to pay for housing and food while interning.

Is this fair to the students who just want to better themselves and learn more? Not necessarily. We have a minimum wage in this country for a reason, but large corporations have found a way around that. College interns are being used as free labor. An April 2 article in The New York Times states that 75 percent of students enrolled in four-year colleges or universities in the U.S. will work as interns at least once before graduating. And of that 75 percent, between 33 and 50 percent will go unpaid.

It’s clear that many students are willing to work for free, but this also means they lose some governmental protection from laws that prohibit racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

So, are unpaid internships worth it? Many students don’t even have the option to work in an internship for free. They wouldn’t be able to afford the expenses they would incur over the summer. But many others can afford to freely spend money while gaining valuable work experience. These students are lucky. They have the flexibility to take an unpaid job and not worry about their personal finances. But not everyone is in that situation.

It’s unrealistic for me to ask every corporation to change its unpaid internships to paid positions. However, companies need to realize the work students are doing is valuable, and they’re doing it in an effort to better themselves.

To students, it’s always valuable to gain real-world experience, but it shouldn’t be at the price of putting yourself in debt. Students should look at their own situation to decide if they can take on an unpaid internship. But they should also realize there are other experiences out there that are just as valuable on a rèsumè, and they should explore alternative options.

Ashley Griesshammer is a senior editorial page editor.

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