NACE Logo NACE Center Logo
National Association of Colleges and Employers NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition
mobile menu
  • NACE Foundation Study: Impact of Unpaid Internships

    CONTACT: Kevin Gray, 610.868.1421, ext. 139
    Andrea Koncz, 610.868.1421, ext. 121
    DATE: January 31, 2017
    SUBJECT: Study Shows Unpaid Internships Have Positive Impact on Career Development

    BETHLEHEM, PA—When compared to paid internships, unpaid internships appear to have a negative impact on graduate employment outcomes; however, they play significantly different roles in terms of students’ career development and academic performance, according to a new study from the NACE Foundation.

    Overall, the study—Understanding the Impact of Unpaid Internships on College Student Career Development and Employment Outcomes—found that participants in unpaid internships took longer to secure their initial employment than their paid counterparts, and had lower starting salaries. They were also less likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their first job.

    However, participation in unpaid internships correlated to positive outcomes in the areas of confirming or rejecting career interests, and setting and attaining career goals. Unpaid internships were rated as being significantly beneficial to gains in understanding academic coursework, while paid internships were not rated as significant in this area. On the other hand, paid internships were rated as significant to professional skill development, while unpaid internships were not significant in this area.

    The study found that unpaid internships represent more experimental, academic activities that offer early opportunities for immersion and socialization in a chosen field. Meanwhile, paid internships provide greater opportunities for students to enhance professional skills. The study notes that “the divide between these categories is blurred, as many unpaid internships also allow students to apply and grow their skill sets. However, these distinctions are helpful in a general sense for articulating the developmental considerations of the internship process.” This suggests that both types of internships may have a place in helping students.

    About the NACE Foundation: Understanding the Impact of Unpaid Internships on College Student Career Development and Employment Outcomes was funded through a grant from the NACE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable, not-for-profit organization created to foster leading-edge resources and educational resources that facilitate the employment of the college educated. The study is available for free: See to download a copy.

    This is the first of four studies funded by the NACE Foundation to investigate outcomes associated with unpaid internships. The second study will be available later this spring.

    Understanding the Impact of Unpaid Internships was conducted on behalf of the NACE Foundation by Andrew Crain, a career consultant for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Public Health, at University of Georgia. The study was based on surveys of 348 students at the University of Georgia, complemented by one-on-one interviews with an additional six students who had completed both paid and unpaid internships during their time in college.

    About NACE: Since 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been the leading source of information about the employment of college graduates. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media at