Typically, interns are paid an hourly wage determined by degree level, class year, and academic major. Interns usually fall into the “non-exempt” category due to the nature of their positions. Seniors, according to the 2012 Guide to Compensation for Interns & Co-ops, earn 26.3 percent more than their freshman cohorts. A master’s degree intern is paid 35 percent more than a bachelor’s degree intern.
Students earning engineering and computer science degrees are usually paid higher wages than students in other disciplines, regardless of class year. At the high end, senior engineering students averaged intern wages of $20.79 per hour. Computer science/IT interns earned $19.10 per hour. On the other end of the scale, senior agriculture majors picked up $15.71 per hour, among the lowest average hourly pay rates.
A word of caution: Your interns will talk amongst themselves, so apply your pay scales consistently.
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So why should an employer pay an intern anything?
I’ve talked about this before, but if you are using your internship program to feed your full-time hiring efforts, pay is essential. First, you want to have the best pool of interns possible — not just those who can afford to go without a paycheck for the summer. Second, there are legal constraints on unpaid internships, and a lot of attention on meeting Fair Labor Standards Act requirements. If you want your interns to perform “real work,” you can avoid the legal hassles by paying them.