More Than Half of College Class of 2023 Grads Took Part Internships—The Majority Were Paid

BETHLEHEM, PA—According to results from a new study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 62% of this year’s graduating seniors took part in an internship at some point in their college career—and 59% of those were paid.

That’s good news: Because paid internships are a path to full-time work, they are important to both students and employers, according to Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director.

“Many employers use their internship programs to feed their full-time hiring efforts. Providing pay not only enables the employer to give the intern ‘real work’—and therefore be better able to gauge the student’s abilities for full-time work—but it also means the employer can attract a larger, more diverse and inclusive pool of candidates for their internships. This is critical to the employer’s ability to diversify the workforce,” he says.

For students, paid internships not only enable them to gain real-world experience—important in today’s job market—but are also an avenue to a successful career.

“Our research consistently shows that students who participate in paid internships not only get more job offers than their peers in unpaid internships, but we also see a relationship between a paid internship and a higher starting salary,” explains VanDerziel.

Among respondents to the 2023 Student Survey, paid interns averaged 1.4 job offers and unpaid interns averaged 0.9. The survey also found that that those who had gained experience in a paid internship earned a median starting salary of $67,500 compared with a median of $45,000 for those who had taken part in unpaid internships.

VanDerziel says that NACE’s research also has consistently found that white students and male students are disproportionally represented among paid interns. For example, among men who took part in an internship, slightly more than three-quarters (76.4%) were paid; among women taking part in internships, slightly over half (51.5%) were paid.

“It’s important that we recognize the inequities that exist and take steps to correct those,” he says.

According to VanDerziel, one giant step in the right direction would be to make all internships paid—a position for which NACE advocates.

“Broadening the range of paid internship opportunities would make it more feasible for all types of students to take part—regardless of their financial circumstances. This is also a win for employers: Not only have paid interns gained meaningful experience they can bring to the table as full-time employees, but also employees who took part in paid internships are more likely to stay with the organization, reducing very real costs associated with turnover,” says VanDerziel.

About the 2023 Student Survey: NACE’s 2023 Student Survey was conducted from March 15, 2023, to May 19, 2023. Overall, 18,966 bachelor’s degree-level students took part; among these were 2,307 students who identified as graduating seniors. A report based on results from the survey will be available in the fall.

About the National Association of Colleges and Employers: Established in 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is the only professional association in the United States that connects nearly 11,000 college career services professionals, more than 3,600 university relations and recruiting professionals, and more than 400 business solution providers that serve this community.

NACE is the premier source of market research on career readiness, the employment of recent college graduates, and the college-to-career transition. NACE forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.