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The data snapshot series at CCWT is intended to get key findings from our various research projects into the public domain as quickly as possible. Data reported in these snapshots also may be included in reports, working papers or peer-reviewed journal articles. Results included here have been conducted with close attention to data quality and analytic rigor.


Zhang, J. & Hora, M.T. (2021). Who are the unpaid interns? Preliminary findings from 13 institutions in the College Internship Study. Data Snapshot #1. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Internships are currently one of the most “high-impact” practice in higher education, largely because
the research literature has shown that they are positively associated with personal, academic and career outcomes (Garcia et al., 2016; Ocampo et al., 2020; Pan et al., 2018; Routon & Walker, 2019). Given the significance of internships in helping college students “open the doors” to their first post-graduate job, over time there have been increasing numbers of students who participate in a college internship, even if they have to work for free (Gardner, 2010; Rogers et al., 2019).

While unpaid internships may provide students opportunities to explore the world of work and may bring them some form of social and cultural capital (Leonard et al., 2016), they have been widely critiqued with respect to their legality, general equality, economically discrimination, and racism (Gardner, 2010; Holford, 2017). For example, lawsuits against the film industry charged that they used unpaid interns to do the work of full-time employees (Gardner, 2016), a scenario that confirmed the fear of some observers that an unpaid internship could represent an exploitative labor situation (Curiale, 2009). Continue reading.