The proliferation of unpaid summer internships has, in recent years, become a hot topic. Unpaid internships have received scathing criticism in the public sphere and even had their legality taken up as a topic in the courtroom. Yet despite their unpopularity in theory, they still widely remain a reality in this country.

But besides the obvious benefit of having an income, what are the actual benefits of paid summer internships for college students?

First and foremost, they allow those students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to do an internship in their desired field the ability to do one. For these students, a paid summer internship doesn’t just translate into money now, it also means more money down the road. A college student’s participation in and completion of a summer internship today increases that student’s likelihood of eventually landing a job in the student’s chosen field. But when a summer internship isn’t paid, some students will have to turn down what would otherwise be an amazing opportunity. As a result, these students are behind when it comes to landing a job post-college, and some may never be able to land the job they want simply because they were never able to afford to get the necessary practical experience while in school. Thus, for students who go to college already at a disadvantage due to their family’s economic position, a paid summer internship could be the difference-maker when it comes to breaking into their desired careers and ultimately making more money in their lifetimes.

Assisting financially disadvantaged students, in turn, assists the country as a whole economically. Although paid internships do put thousands of dollars back into the economy generally, paid internships for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them benefits the country not only now, but in the future. When a paid internship helps a student from a disadvantaged background land a job post-college, that internship has set the student – and his or her current or future descendants – on a better financial path.

Paid summer internships also help students, with their own personal growth. When students are paid, they’re able to expand their search for internships to other parts of the country. A student might be able to spend the summer in Washington D.C. or San Francisco because having a paid internship means he will be able to afford to sublet an apartment. That student is allowed the opportunity to live in and discover a new place or culture, learn practical skills.

In short, paid summer internships are so much more than a little bit of extra money today. They are more experience and connections in a particular job field, more job opportunities and income down the road, and a more even playing field for students with a variety of financial backgrounds. They benefit the students, they benefit the economy, and, in the end, they benefit us all.

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