The paid vs unpaid internship conversation with GS’ OCPD


Tatiana Joseph-Saunders, Culture Reporter

Due to a recent tweet from Jane Slater @SlaterNFL on Twitter, unpaid internships have been getting more attention on social media this month. Slater originally tweeted about how she was surprised by the response she received from sharing an unpaid internship offer.

I have been really thankful for my internship opportunities over the years, I am a senior and I have been doing a paid summer internship for the past two years. I know that a lot of my friends and peers take up unpaid internships during the summer or even during the school year for college credit or for potential career opportunities in the future. I wanted to talk to the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) here at Georgia Southern about internships, the conversation shed some light on instances I had not considered before with non-profit companies and also how the OCPD can help students navigate the job searching landscape.

I spoke to Caitlyn Cofer, the Assistant Director of Experiential Learning at the OCPD about the trending ideas around career development for students.

“It’s interesting because the discourse [about un/paid internships] between all of that, on the internet, is not surprising to me. I’m glad that people are talking about unpaid internships, unfortunately, it’s [the discourse] is more nuanced than ‘oh we think internships should be paid’.”

Cofer then brings up the 7 rules or qualifications that unpaid internships must meet when offered by “For-profit” employers, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The 7 rules make up a ‘test’, they are listed below. 


  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.


Cofer goes on to state how the OCPD advocates for GS students when having conversations with employers looking for students. 

“That part of what I do, so when companies want to start an internship program or hire our students for internships, we do have conversations about compensation. I’m very honest, number one if you want to be competitive and get our best students, you probably need to pay them. And number two, your organization makes money, you can find an opportunity to pay the student. If they [the organization] don’t make money, then that’s understandable.”. Cofer explains. 

One of the responsibilities of the Office of Career and Professional Development, within that we have the career development side… then we have a complete other side that’s called the employer relations team and we work with those employers to create those opportunities and to make sure that they’re quality opportunities for you guys.”, Cofer states. 

Cofer mentions that sometimes in these conversations with these companies, what is fair pay for students or even what’s the minimum wages have to be discussed. She cites NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers),  a national organization that provides annual salary surveys, as one resource to be considered when talking about compensation in different careers. 

Cofer and I then revisited the conversation on paid vs unpaid internships and her opinion on both. 

“We want all internships to be paid, everyone should be paid for their work… if it’s a nonprofit organization, if it’s a public health organization, if its a government agency, because they are not generating profit, it’s hard to pay [interns]… It’s a personal decision for the student.”.

She also goes on to empathize with those who cannot afford to take on unpaid internships.

“And still I recognize that sometimes students can’t afford it, I think that’s what Dan Rather put in his tweet, that some students still would see the value in it [unpaid internships], but they can’t work for free.”

Speaking of her personal experience with opportunities, Cofer mentions the benefit of having internships to see if you really do enjoy what you think you want as a career. 

“I was a double major in English and film, I wanted to be a scriptwriter I loved the idea of it. I did a six-week internship with Lifetime and had the worst time of my life. It was because I liked to write because I enjoy it, not because I wanted my life to depend on my doing that… I had to completely pivot and get my master’s degree in what I’m doing now, which is student affairs and working with students and working with employers and things like that so.”.

The fact that internships can really help students learn about their desired field is what inspires her advice to students. 

“My grad school internship, even though it was unpaid, I was doing the job that I was training to do so, I worked for I worked under our assistant director in our office of career development and she kind of gave me a taste of everything that I could potentially do if I were an employee in the office. And that’s a big thing with those 7 outlined [rules] on that checklist, that an unpaid employee can’t take the work of a paid employee

“That’s what I always tell students like you have if there are opportunities apply for them seek them out seek out ways to get experience for especially right now, thankfully, so many things are virtual so it’s easier to do things, especially unpaid things.”

One thing that students may not know, is the OCPD offers an internship scholarship program for those looking to help alleviate the costs of career-related summer internships. The application to the program closes on March 26, and more information can be found on the website. The Office of Career and Professional Development can offer a lot of help for students in search of internships but also just preparing for the professional world!