October 20, 2013

BUSINESS: Some Cornell Students Choose Passion, Not Money in Internships

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As Cornell students apply for summer internships, some of them seem to be putting their passions first and their wallets second.

Learning about the firm and the role he would play in the company was more important than monetary compensation to Han Wei Chew ’15, who interned at Goldman Sachs over the summer.

“Pay was a huge draw, [but] the most important things were that I got to better explore the industry and the firm,” he said. “As long as you’re doing something you really enjoy, pay will be a very small factor.”

Julia Guacelli ’16 said she interned without pay at Panna — a digital food magazine company — over the summer. Despite the lack of monetary compensation, “the experience was so worth it and I learned so much. It showed me the value of a Cornell education,” Guacelli said.

“I have no regrets whatsoever — it was awesome,” she said. “[The internship] really improved my communication skills and taught me how to deal with people.”

While the University keeps no official data on summer internships, compensation rates can vary vastly across industries, according to Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of Cornell Career Services.

“The best paid fields would be in engineering and financial services, and in both of those industries interns are compensated a pro-rated amount of what a first year employee would be paid,” she said.

Annual salaries in these industries ranged from $60,000 to $70,000, according to Cornell Career Services’ Class of 2012 Postgraduate Report. Other industries are known to provide less, if any, compensation.

“Advertising, communications and sports management are pretty well known to be areas [where interns] aren’t even paid at all,” Sparrow said. “But employers have gotten used to having that ready supply of eager people who want to volunteer their time to accumulate work experience.”

Industries that benefit from the improving U.S. economy tend to pay interns better, according to Sparrow.

“Higher-paid industries are in parts of the economy that are doing well. They’re competing for top talent, and one thing they have to do is to pay for that,” she said.

However, the “popular” field of financial services has proven to be an exception, according to Sparrow. Although the financial world was adversely affected by the recession in 2008 and has struggled ever since, the mean salary for financial services was $64,366, according to the 2012 postgraduate report.

“The employees work such a large number of hours that [financial services firms] wouldn’t be able to entice students by offering no pay,” Sparrow said.

However, not all internship fields have such formalized compensation. Sam Kaner ’16 said he had to bargain for pay during his internship as a real estate agent’s assistant.

“There was a little bit of bargaining. [The agency] offered $8 [per hour] and I said $12, and we came to an agreement of $10,” he said. “If I’m going to put in 50 hours of my time each week into something I don’t feel strongly about, [then] I shouldn’t be doing that for free.”

Still, the importance of passion for a career has not been lost, according to Kaner.

“I definitely recommend that students find something that they are interested in,” he said.