It’s commonplace for college students to stay busy over the summer by working or participating in internship programs. As student loan payments are set to resume in the fall, students may be feeling more pressure to earn money this summer, and fewer students may be willing and able to do unpaid internships programs. Due to the on-going labor shortage, typical student jobs in the service industry may also be more lucrative than ever.

To find out what students’ summer plans are, in June, surveyed 749 current full-time undergraduate students.

Key findings:

  • 53% of college students are working this summer, 21% are doing an internship, and 7% are doing both
  • 21% of students working in service industry job are considering delaying going back to school due to earning potential
  • 65% of those considering return to school delay have federal student loans
  • Nearly half of students doing internships say it’s unpaid
  • 82% of students working/interning with federal student loans are worried about payments resuming

39% of college students working in service industry considering delaying going back to school given earning potential

More than half of college students say they are working this summer, and 34% of college students are working a service industry /customer service job.

While the plurality (43%) are earning $11-$15 per hour before tips, 30% are earning $16-$20, 5% $21-$25, and 5% are earning more than $25 an hour. Additionally, 36% say they are earning more than an additional $10 an hour in tips.

Due to how much money they can make, 39% of college students working a service industry job are ‘strongly considering’ (15%) or ‘somewhat considering’ (24%) delaying going back to school.

A potential reason for this is because 65% of these students say they have federal student loans, and 82% are ‘very worried’ (42%) or ‘somewhat worried’ (41%) about federal student loan payments resuming.

Overall, 51% of students who are working this summer have student loans and 80% are worried about payments resuming.

“College students have traditionally relied on summer jobs to help defray college expenses, but there are several compelling reasons why these jobs, even if they are not directly related to one’s intended career, are more important than ever,” says Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College and Principal of Gayeski Analytics Diane Gayeski, Ph.D.

“Tuition, room and board are more expensive than ever, and few families can afford to pay the entire cost. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling that student loan payments will resume, the looming debt payments are more concerning than ever. Reducing the amount of borrowed money greatly impacts the total amount and length of debt, especially given rising interest rates.

“Graduates often find that it’s difficult to land a job if they’ve never had a job – even if they earned great grades and studied in an area where their skills are in demand. Employers want to see evidence that prospective workers have the discipline to stick to a job schedule and that they have developed good interpersonal work skills. Actually, having worked rather in challenging situations such as busy restaurants or fast-paced call centers provides the opportunity for students to be able to talk about the techniques they learned when it comes time to interview for jobs, and enables them to ask supervisors for letters of recommendation. Employers look for evidence of good customer service skills, teamwork, the ability to de-escalate tense situations, and the flexibility to learn new skills and take on unexpected responsibilities.

“Having a college degree no longer guarantees an immediate job, and especially in careers like theater, filmmaking, and music that are a series of ‘gigs’ rather than steady jobs, the ability to find other flexible types of employment is necessary for financial survival. Students who understand this build up their experience and network in retail or hospitality chains where they can easily find employment, even in other cities, with the same company.”

1 in 7 college students have unpaid internships this summer

About one-fifth (21%) of college students are doing an internship this summer, and of this group nearly half (46%) say their internship is unpaid.

When asked why they chose to do an unpaid internship, respondents said:

  • “To get experience for my resume”
  • “There aren’t a lot of paid internships for my major and my field of interest. I can’t get a job without experience.”
  • “Because I could not get a paid internship.”
  • “I choose to do an unpaid internship for the experience and recommendations.”

Seven percent of students are both working and doing an internship this summer.

Of students with unpaid internships who have federal student loans, 85% are worried about payments resuming. A similar percentage (82%) of students with paid internships feel the same.

The case for paid internships

Diane Gayeski, Ph.D., offers further insight on college internships.

“Internships are an important learning component for most college students, especially if they are not going straight on to graduate school. I always advise students to take as many internships as possible, even if they are very part-time and unpaid, because the most significant insights gained are about whether the student really likes working in a specific career or in a particular type of organization. Studying topics like journalism or hospitality management or art appraisal is much different than actually working in that field, and often students come to the conclusion that the work environment or hours are not a good match for them.  While having an unpaid internship may seem like it doesn’t make good financial sense, neither does paying for four years of college only to find out later that you don’t want to go into that field after all.

“Many college majors require internships, such as those in health sciences such as physical therapy or in elementary and secondary education, which require a certain number of practical experience hours in order to be certified to practice. But even in other fields, internships are often the only way for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. For example, in the Live Event Design and Management minor at Ithaca College where I teach, students are required to take at least three credits of internship where they are directly involved in producing and executing major events, something that just can’t be replicated in a classroom. Because of the location of many colleges as well as the heavy schedule of classes, sports, and work that most students endure during the regular semesters, the summer is often the only opportunity for them to do an internship.

“Over the past few years, most companies have begun to pay their interns because they realize that this may be the only way to attract top talent, and because there’s been so much public outcry about the inequities of unpaid internships with for-profit companies. However, the pay often doesn’t match what a student can earn in wages and tips as a server or bartender, and sometimes students need to move away from home to be able to do an internship in their field which brings on added living expenses. In addition to this, many employers require that students are enrolled for college internship credits because this covers them for insurance and other legal matters – however, this adds even more financial burden because the students then must pay for those credits in the summer when scholarships often don’t cover that cost.

“When I served as Dean, I established a fund that would cover living expenses and credit enrollment for students who wanted to pursue a summer internship away from home but could not afford to do so. I recognized that this leveled the playing field for students from different economic backgrounds. In many industries, internships are about the only path to entry-level jobs because it’s a good way for employers and young graduates to ‘date’ and try out the relationship before committing to a full-time offer. Students who feel like they can’t afford to do an internship might pursue some of these options:

  1. Look for stipends and scholarships specifically for summer internships.
  2. Try to find a part-time internship and a part-time job so you can do both – such as working evenings as a server or bartender or weekends as a lifeguard while doing a 9-5 weekday internship.
  3. Find or propose a remote or hybrid internship (more common now after COVID) that allows you to do work on your own time. For instance, many of our students got remote internships doing social media or content writing with PR and advertising agencies where they could do the writing at any time, as long as they met certain deadlines. Often, these internships would then continue on through the regular semesters, sometimes as a part-time employee.
  4. If you can’t manage an internship, try to arrange for a significant volunteer gig or two. For example, business students might volunteer to help with financial record-keeping for a faith-based group with which they are affiliated. Elementary education students might volunteer in a local library doing some reading programs for kids on the weekends. Even volunteering to help raise money or usher at a local concert hall or theater or being a docent at a historical site can provide some great learning and networking opportunities in a compressed amount of time.”


This online poll was commissioned by and conducted by SurveyMonkey June 29-30, 2023. Respondents consist of a national sample of 749 full-time college students aged 18-25. A total of 509 students who are working and/or doing an internship this summer completed the full survey.

Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Learn more about SurveyMonkey’s methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.