Are internships paid or unpaid? 

The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies to all companies that have at least two employees directly engaged in interstate commerce and annual sales of at least $500,000, severely restricts an employer's ability to use unpaid interns or trainees.  It does not limit an employer's ability to hire paid interns.  

You don't have to pay interns who qualify as leaders/trainees.  The U.S. Department of Labor has outlined six criteria for determining trainee status:

  1. Interns cannot displace regular employees.
  2. Interns are not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship (though you may decide to hire them at the conclusion of experience).
  3. Interns are not entitled to wages during the internship.
  4. Interns must receive training from your organization, even if it somewhat impeded the work. 
  5. Interns must get hands-on experience with equipment and processes used in their industry. 
  6. Interns' training must primarily benefit them, not the organization.

How much should we pay an intern?

Intern/Co-op students should be contributing valuable and productive work to your organization and should be fairly compensated. Evaluate the intern’s level of responsibility, experience, and skillsets when deciding on an appropriate wage. You may choose to pay the intern hourly or in a lump sum (stipend) at the end of their experience.

If you cannot “pay” your intern, consider additional ways in which you may provide compensation or benefits:

  • Provide networking opportunities (through professional association memberships, sponsoring attendance at networking events, offering participation in the workplace or vendor-provided training, etc.)
  • Reimburse tuition for internship credit
  • Cover housing costs/offer housing
  • Cover out-of-pocket transportation costs; give them a gas card
  • Offer discounts on products or merchandise
  • Take them to lunch

How many hours can an intern work?

This depends on the department requirements for academic internship and labor laws.  The intern can be part-time and work less than 20 hours per week or full-time and work 40 hours or more per week.  If a student is in school full-time, 10-15 hours per week is recommended.  

Is my organization responsible for providing insurance of benefits to the intern?

Typically, only full-time employees are eligible for benefits provided by the employer.  Interns are short-term employees and are ineligible for insurance and/or benefits.  

What is the difference between an internship and a part-time job?

An internship may also be a part-time job if the student is being paid like other employees.  It is the learning objectives and the connection to the academic work that makes the opportunity qualify for an internship.  If a part-time employee is better suited for your organization's needs, you can visit the

Student Employment Office at for more information. 

What is the difference between an unpaid internship and volunteer experience?

In some cases, internships may be unpaid, making them feel like a volunteer experience.  It is the learning objectives and the supervision/mentorship that change a volunteer experience to the internship level.  If a volunteer role is better suited for your organization's needs, you can visit the Community Service Learning Center at for more information.  

Page last modified August 4, 2021