This post was updated July 24 at 9:50 a.m.
In this era of rising tuition and competition, lazy summer days by the poolside are increasingly being replaced by days spent at summer jobs or internships. College students, having accepted their loss of an idyllic and lazy summer, are now moving on to their next dilemma: deciding whether to spend their summer at an internship or at a job.
Most students see the conflict between summer jobs and internships as a simple trade-off between garnering experience that increases their worth in the job market and earning real cash they can use for summer and college expenses.
However, this trade-off is not as simple as it seems. Before choosing between an internship and a summer job, it’s important to understand the nuanced implications your summer activity – nay, labor – may have.
Money, needless to say, is a major consideration in this decision. While some summer internships – like the prestigious ones offered at Google and Facebook – offer substantial stipends, about half the internships offered by companies fall under the unpaid category.
This disparity in stipend rates, coupled with the large probability of not receiving a monetary payback, can make internships unattractive for college students who come from less privileged backgrounds and depend on summer jobs to help with living and college expenses.
Therefore, if seen just from a quantitative perspective, summer jobs are more desirable than internships.
However, while internships may fall short in providing students with ready short-term money, they still have a financial benefit if they can be translated into academic credit. At UCLA, courses numbered “195” and “95” can be completed through internship credits and therefore students can earn academic credits and fulfill major electives without paying actual tuition fees.
Since these internships replace a three to four credit class – which would usually cost the students thousands of dollars – these credits can be seen as a replacement for the real income that a student may earn at a summer job.
It should also be noted that a well-chosen internship will have benefits that last longer than our four years at college.
“Companies are increasingly implementing internships for learning programs,” said Henna Dialani, a third-year statistics student and a full-time intern at AIA Group Limited in Hong Kong. Dialani added she thinks some students choose to be interns because companies may offer them future employment.
Internships are used by companies to search for new employees and can prove especially beneficial for seniors. The right internship may just have a long-term financial payout because it may lead to a job offer and therefore help students avoid the uncertain post-graduation job market.
Therefore, students should not dismiss the idea of a summer internship simply by looking at their short-term financial payout.
Students should keep their own financial needs in mind before basing this decision on just the financial perks or letdowns of these activities; while the idea of getting a job simply to increase one’s reserve of spending money may seem attractive, any earned cash will eventually run out while a good internship may have a considerable and permanent impact on a resume.
At the other end of the spectrum, a lot of college students pick internships over summer jobs simply because they feel that internships look more attractive on resumes and equip them with more skills, experiences and connections that they can make use of when they eventually enter the job market. In fact, the potential effect that an internship may have on a resume even prompts some students to pick internships that don’t offer any stipends.
However, what a lot of students don’t realize is that unpaid internships may not have a huge impact on their skill set or resume. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, unpaid interns cannot be involved in activities that generate profit for the company. Therefore, the activities of an unpaid intern are usually restricted to pure administrative work or assisting paid workers.
“Employers use unpaid internships as an excuse to exploit unpaid labor under the guise of ‘exposure,’” said Zoya Chhabra, a political science graduate. “Interns often end up doing mundane administrative tasks that don’t necessarily provide that much exposure,” Chhabra said.
But some students may still be willing to undertake this labor for their career. However, a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that unpaid internships do not actually increase a student’s probability of receiving a job offer prior to graduation. This trend to a large extent can be attributed to the quality of work that unpaid interns engage in and the skills they develop through it.
In fact, summer jobs in the service sector may lead to greater skill development because they help students develop soft skills, including important communication skills such as pacifying angry customers while adopting a professional and courteous attitude.
“I think summer jobs are beneficial for the experiential learning of a college student because of the number of skills you pick up,” said Troy Kato, a third-year applied linguistics student. “When I worked at a UCLA student store last summer, I learned how important punctuality really is.”
In addition to that, experience from summer jobs can also have an impact on a student’s GPA. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, summer jobs have a positive impact on test taking because they allow students to develop time management skills and confidence.
Summer jobs can also impact a student’s GPA by enabling them to apply for better jobs once the school year restarts. These jobs, which come with a higher wage, can in turn allow students to reduce the number of hours they have to work during the school year.
Before diving into an unpaid internship, it’s important to fully understand its job specifications and the skills that you will get out of it. After all, if you’re only getting coffee for people, you might as well do it in a coffee shop and get paid for it.
At the end of the day, what matters more than the tag of an internship or a summer job is the work you are doing and the skills you develop. A good internship can result in a long-term financial payout and summer jobs can provide a setting to gain experience and develop skills. A decision, therefore, should depend more on financial needs and career goals than on the broad perks these different kinds of labor may offer. But whatever you pick, make sure you do have a few hours you can snatch at that poolside – because after all, it is summer.