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Paid Internships Reap Bigger Payoffs, Survey Finds

College students across the country are logging hours at internships this summer in hopes that the experience will help their future chances in the job market.

Turns out that those with paid internships are more likely see a payoff than those who worked for free, according to the latest survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Paid interns made about $51,930 a year in their first job. Recent graduates with unpaid internships had starting salaries of $35,721, which is not much different than those with no internship experience who had a median income of $37,087, the survey revealed.

Job offers also were more plentiful for those being compensated for their internships. About 63 percent of recent 2013 college graduates applying for a job who'd had paid internships had at least one job offer, while 37 percent of unpaid interns and 35 percent of those with no internship received at least one job offer.

Potential reasons for the payoff gap vary. Previous research by NACE suggests paid interns may spend more time than unpaid interns engaged in more meaningful work, giving them a chance to gain more of the relevant work experience that employers value.

NACE gathered its information this spring from about 9,200 seniors earning bachelor's degrees. This year's results are consistent with the previous two NACE surveys, reflecting a salary and job-offer advantage for paid interns.

Yesterday, NACE released new survey results that showed 63 percent of graduating college seniors from the class of 2013 took part in an internship or a cooperative education assignment. That represents the highest overall participation rate since NACE began tracking this information in 2007.

Of those who had internships, slightly more than half—52.2 percent—were paid. For the class of 2013, 56.3 percent of internships were at for-profit, private-sector organizations. Another 28.1 percent were at nonprofits, and 15.7 percent were at government agencies. Students were more likely to be unpaid if they worked at nonprofits or for the government.

Other researchers have discovered employers value on-the-job experience and internships more than grades or where a student went to school.

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