Where interns make more than most U.S. workers

Chances are that when you conjure up an image of an intern, an unpaid college student fetching lattes springs to mind.

Yet there's a segment of the economy where many interns make far more than the median U.S. household: The tech sector.

The top-paying internship tracked by employment site Glassdoor.com can be found at Palantir, a company founded by PayPal alumni and Stanford computer scientists. The average monthly pay for an intern at Palantir? $7,012, according to a recent survey of the highest paid internships tracked by the site. That would peg an intern's annual pay at $84,144, or about 62 percent higher than the U.S. median household income of $52,046.

Tech interns "are getting hands-on experience and are being tasked with big responsibilities," said Scott Dobroski, a community expert at Glassdoor.com. "They are not just there to get coffee."

That's in stark contrast with the struggles of interns who work in arts-related roles, where it's more common to toil away in unpaid summer positions. Still, those unpaid roles have come under fire, after two production interns on the 2010 movie "Black Swan" sued for pay, as well as legal action over unpaid internships at Hearst and Warner Music Group.

Glassdoor's findings come at a time when many young graduates are struggling to find work, or are taking low-wage or part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Given a still-recovering economy, many students view summer internships as stepping stones to full-time employment. But research shows that not all college degrees are created equal.

Graduates with computer science, engineering and math degrees tended to have lower unemployment rates than those in the arts, according to a 2013 study from Georgetown University. "People who make technology are still better off than people who use technology," the study noted.

Competition for skilled tech workers -- software engineers, applications developers and the like -- remains tight, so many technology companies see their internships as ways to recruit and develop their next hires, Dobroski noted.

"In the tech world, we see paid internships because it's so incredibly competitive" to hire talent, he said.

Among the top 10 highest-paid internships across all industries, nine are found at technology companies, according to the Glassdoor report, which considered data from January 2012 through January 2014. The only non-tech company in the bunch is ExxonMobil, which pays an average of $5,969 per month. ExxonMobil, while not a high-tech company, is typically seeking interns with specific engineering and scientific experience, Dobroski notes.

If internships lead to full-time job offers, the students are often hired at higher pay scales than they earned in their summer jobs, Glassdoor notes.

"Someone with one to two years experience as a software engineer, they are making close to $100,000 and in some some case even more than that," Dobroski said.

  • Aimee Picchi

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