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Unpaid internships

A Note About Unpaid Internships

To All Economics Majors,

Each year, students inquire about receiving academic credit for unpaid internships.  This note will clarify that Bates College has no program through which such work experience credit can be granted.

Why, you may wonder, do some corporations have this requirement?  The employer is not watching out for your academic career.  In truth, they likely don’t care one way or the other; they simply want highly talented students to work for free.  Their problem is that they are subject to minimum wage laws, which prohibit them from hiring unpaid interns, even if you are willing to work for free.  So, in order to hire you legally, you must receive ‘something of value’ in return.  The companies do not want to pay you money, so their solution is to have Bates provide the ‘something of value,’ namely academic credit.  In short, they want to use Bates’ resources to pay you to work for them.

We have been able to satisfy firms’ needs in the past by sending letters explaining that we don’t have a summer academic program, but that students with such internships may apply to do an independent study based on the internship in the fall.  Recently, some firms are requiring more concrete assurances, demanding both a guarantee that the independent study will take place, as well as demanding a syllabus.  This is an assurance we cannot give.

The economics faculty does not have the time nor the desire to advise another dozen or so independent studies that are outside of our expertise and of questionable academic value. (Please don’t misunderstand–work experience is valuable, but it is of a different nature than the academic experience.)  Also, there is something unseemly about large, well-capitalized firms pushing their summer labor costs onto colleges and universities.  The Bates faculty as a whole stated in 2002 that they do not want to participate in such a system.

So, the status at the moment is that if the employers are unwilling to pay you and do not accept the letter stating that you may do an independent study in the fall, there is nothing more that the Department or the College can do. We understand that this may prove to be a great disappointment.  However, you need to understand that the faculty strongly believes that we cannot promise and provide syllabi for independent studies we have no intention of offering.  As prospective businesspeople and citizens, we hope that you will recognize that it is not acceptable behavior to propagate a falsehood in order to get what you want.

Please contact the department with any questions you may have on the issue.

The Department of Economics


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