businesswoman making a difficult choice between an apple and orangeAs internships have become the norm for kickstarting the careers of students and recent graduates, so has the idea that receiving academic credit for an internship is compensation enough.

You’ve probably seen this ideal being touted on a number of internship listings, or maybe a company you’ve worked with has used it before. The disclaimer sometimes reads like this: “Candidates must be able to receive academic credit for this internship opportunity.” But what does this suggestive stamp really mean, and why has it become a requirement for experience?

Pay is likely the culprit in this situation. Companies often see academic credit as an effective and legal substitute for compensation. But in reality, receiving academic credit for an internship isn’t even close to receiving (at the very least) the minimum federal wage.

Let’s take a deeper look at why dubbing an internship as “for-credit” isn’t equal to offering a decent wage, and may force you to miss out on great intern candidates:

Academic Credit Costs Students

Your interns have to pay for the credit they receive from your internships. In the real world, no worker would ever be expected to pay to work for an employer. So, saying your internship is “for academic credit only” essentially means that your interns are going to be uncompensated and have to pay for the college credit they’re receiving from the experience. When you factor in all the living expenseslike food, housing and transportationis this really a fair trade?

Consider that 60 percent of the 20 million Americans who attend college each year borrow annually to help cover the cost. In addition, 65 percent of students rely on financial assistance from parents during the internship while 61.4 percent of students need to work second jobs while working as an unpaid intern. Touting academic experience as compensation enough isn’t doing debt-strapped students any favors.

Why it matters for recruiters: Talented students are going to skip over your company’s internship offering if it doesn’t take their daily needs into account. Leaving internships uncompensated closes the door to anyone who isn’t upper middle classeffectively maintaining the status quo and shutting out low-income or ethnically diverse candidates. While paid internships are rare, they do exist, and forcing students to pay for academic credit will just send them running in the other direction.

Offering “For-Credit” Internships Doesn’t Read Well

It’s time to consider the motives behind your for-credit internship offering. Does the company lack the funds to offer a paid internship but still want to offer valuable experience? Or maybe it’s hoping to gain an extra set of hands at no cost.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your potential intern candidates. Adding the “for-credit” clause to your description could lead candidates to see you as trying to avoid legal repercussions associated with unpaid internships. Requiring academic approval rather than offering fair compensation may harm both your recruiter reputation and your employer brand in the long-run.

Why it matters for recruiters: Employees and interns are your biggest employer brand ambassadors. Failing to offer adequate compensation may mean your interns will bad-mouth your company or fail to refer other talented candidates in the future.

Is Your Internship Experience Really Creditworthy?

Slapping a “for credit only” statement on internship job listings doesn’t ensure it’s actually going to be accepted as credit at your chosen intern’s university. Receiving academic credit for an internship is up to your intern’s academic department and academic advisor, and requirements vary among colleges and universities.

As a college recruiter, you will have to adjust your internship program to ensure you’re meeting all of these guidelines and requirements before your intern’s first day. You will likely have a set number of hours your intern must work throughout the semester, project and assignment guidelines, a vetting process to ensure your company has enough to offer interns, and even quality control to ensure the experience was educationally beneficial. Even after all of that, your intern may not receive the credit he or she deserves.

Why it matters for recruiters: Recruiters should encourage the employers they represent to regularly evaluate their intern programs and ensure they’re up to par. Meeting regularly with academic advisors within relevant departments will ensure your company’s programs are in line with academic standards.

Transforming Your Internship Program

Your offer of academic credit is valuable to some students, but it shouldn’t be in place to substitute pay. If you’re planning to use the for-credit clause as a part of your internship program, the least you can do is offer it as an option only. This will allow your students to decide for themselves whether they can afford to pay for the credits. You should also be offering your interns at least the federal minimum wage and overtime to compensate them legally.

If your internship program is in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and is exempt from paying interns, you should at least offer them compensation in the form: of a lunch and travel stipend, the flexibility of working from home, guaranteed job recommendations, mentorship, and/or paid attendance at industry conferences.

Why it matters for recruiters: Recruiters don’t have to take a backseat when it comes to company internship programs. If you really want interns to have a good experience and make your recruiting job a bit easier, talk to hiring managers and company executives about what they can do to properly compensate interns.

Unpaid internships only transform into a job 37 percent of the time, just a one percent advantage over no internship experience at all (36 percent). Compare this to the 60 percent of paid interns who receive full-time job offers. Since unpaid internships rarely lead to a job, is it really fair to consider academic credit as compensation enough? As a recruiter, you’ll land better candidates with up-to-par internships that include meeting your intern’s university requirements for academic credit and offering fair compensation.

What do you think? Should all interns be paid?

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