Summer Job or Internship for College Students?

We help you decide on whether to pick a summer job or an internship during your college break.




Last Updated: January 8th, 2021

Summer Job or Internship for College Students?
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If you are trying to decide whether to choose a summer job or internship during your college break it depends on your individual situation. You can start figuring what you are looking to get out of the experience by asking yourself these questions.
  • What are your immediate needs?
  • Do you want to gain experience in a certain field?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • Do you want to start making professional connections?
  • Are you looking to make money?
  • Do you want to receive college credit?
  • Are you looking for a job you can return to during future college breaks?

This questions will help you determine what you are looking for. Once you have determined, consider the benefits and downsides that paid or unpaid internships have to offer. What will then align most with your goals, pick that option.

Benefits of Summer Jobs

  • Guaranteed to make money
  • Standard application process
  • Easy to get
  • Good networking and connections for future positions
  • Possibility of returning during future college breaks

Downsides of Summer Jobs

  • Summer jobs can't offer college credit
  • May not connect to your field of study
  • Pays less than an internship

Benefits of Internships

  • Likely to make more money than a summer job
  • May receive college credit
  • Good networking and connections for future positions
  • Connects with your field of study. You will be able to grow and explore your field of study.

Downsides of Internships

  • Likely to make no money at all
  • Can be difficult to get
  • You will unlikely to return for a second internship at the same company unless they consider you as a potential employee

The average hourly wage for a paid intern in 2019 was $19.05 per hour, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). According to a report by ZipRecruiter, the average teen summer jobsin 2019 is $16.38 per hour. This means that students who work in paid internships are likely to make more money than those who work in standard summer jobs.

In unpaid internships, you won't be making money at all. Before applying, you should know whether they offer course credit-which, if transferable, will save you some tuition money. In a standard job, you won't get that as an option.

Summer jobs are quite easy to get in, where you go through a standard application and interview process. Internships are more competitive and demanding. You will be required to start applying earlier than you would in a summer job. Summer jobs are more secure where you are often welcome to return to the same job during each break from school, which doesn't apply to internship positions.

In an internship, which aligns with your field of study, you are more likely to build better networks and professional connections that can be beneficial to your future positions. If you go to the standard job route, you may end up in something like a retail job which does not align with your career.

Paid and Unpaid Internships

Internships are a little bit trickier. For you to be paid in an internship, the employer will pay you, if they consider you as a potential employee - and not all interns are. For a standard summer job, there's usually no question about whether or not you'll get paid.

How to know whether an unpaid internship is legitimate, consider this guidelines provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. Department of Labor:

  • The internship, even though it includes the actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  • The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under the close supervision of existing staff.
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Students who work paid internships are more likely to get job offers than those who work unpaid internships.

Preparing for Summer Work

As early as winter break, begin looking for an internship or a summer job. Update your LinkedIn as many employers will take a look to get an idea of who you are and what experience you have, as well as see any recommendations from former employers. Also, remember to clean up your public social media profiles.

How to start looking for an internship is by contacting everyone who works in the field or fields of your interest. Also, find out by asking your school whether there are any internship programs with companies in your field.

Start looking for an internship a few months before your college break. This will help you to get the most opinions and available positions on the radar. You should convey eagerness, enthusiasm and commitment in an internship to your potential employer, especially in highly competitive fields.

If you're looking for a summer job, try to find one that aligns with your field of study. This will help in decorating your resume. One option to consider is signing up with online sites such as,, or several others to tutor in the subjects that you're studying.

Showing initiative and motivation to continue to learn and improve skills is the best thing to expand your resume and broaden your knowledge, whether it's a paid internship, unpaid internship, full-time job or a part time job.


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