WASHINGTON – Accepting an unpaid internship position does more harm than good, the National Association of Colleges and Employers concluded after conducting a survey of college students.

But for those who can land paid internships, there are a lot of benefits. The survey of almost 40,000 students, conducted in 2013, found that 47.8 percent of internships were unpaid.

Financial editor for NBC Today and economist Jean Chatzky said students in unpaid internships have to subsidy the experience, paying for rent and transportation without any compensation for their work.

College grants do exist, she said but most are need-based. If a student cannot file for financial aid, it is difficult to receive a grant for an unpaid position.

But summer internships, paid or unpaid, have a long tradition in the U.S. Employers say that “internships and other hands-on experiences” hold up as valuable qualifications for consideration of future employment.

But the NACE survey report said there’s a difference between paid and unpaid internships that goes beyond the salary.

The background that future employers expect from summer internships usually come from paid internships, NACE said. Paid interns used their time at company doing professional tasks whereas unpaid workers’ duties were mostly clerical.

“The unpaid internship offers no advantage to the job-seeking student,” NACE concluded.

Interns could make $6,200 per month at companies like LinkedIn, learning from respected employees. On the other hand, a college student could spend the summer fetching coffee for co-workers just to add a bullet point to his or her resume.

“Committing to long-term projects, being innovative, and connecting with your superiors is going to make you successful,” Discover Financial Services intern Ridhima Chopra said. Chopra has been with Discover for a two-year, paid internship program.

“There have been a lot of unpaid interns filing lawsuits or complaints over this matter,” she said.

The Supreme Court weighed in 78 years ago, setting guidelines for unpaid interns.

In June, a federal judge ruled against Fox Searchlight Pictures for not paying two interns on the set of the movie “Black Swan” because they did the work of full-time employees.

More recently New York University student Christina Isnardi realized that she was doing the work of a full-time employee at a film internship. The catch? She was doing it for free.

Isnardi started a petition, “Stop Posting Illegal Unpaid Internships!” As of March 16, the NYU student had 1,174 of a goal of 2,000 signatures. The website calls upon the removal of “illegal, exploitative unpaid internships from CareerNet, NYU’s online job internship posting website.”

Self-styled “Intern Queen” Lauren Berger had 15 internships in four years while in college. Berger, the author of “All Work, No Pay: Finding An Internship, Building Your Resume, Making Connections, and Gaining Job Experience,” wrote an extensive how-to guide for college students looking to build their resumes.

Berger advises internship hopefuls to familiarize themselves with the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act of 1983, which sets minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and employment of young adults in the private sector.

In 1947, The Supreme Court outlined factors that defined legality of unpaid internships in the case of Walling v. Portland Terminal Co.. It ruled that interns must do work that they can benefit from, not solely advantageous to the employer.

Another part of the ruling calls upon the company to train the unpaid intern in a way that is similar to a scholastic setting. The employer cannot gain any advantages from the intern’s actions. Walling v. Portland Terminal Co. also requires the employer to ensure that the experience is targeted at benefiting the intern, with a mutual understanding that the intern is not receiving wages for the time.

The court also addressed permanent employment. An unpaid intern should not expect to be offered a job at the end of the program, though it is legal to offer one, the justices said. Also, trainees and interns cannot replace regular employees.

“I’ve learned that if you say you’re an intern and act like one, you’ll never be tested as a real employee,” Chopra said, speaking on her experiences at a paid internship.

The Department of Labor states that if an internship is unpaid, all of these guidelines must be met.

But scoring the prized paid internship at a high-profile company can be successful in pushing a student forward.

“I was always fortunate enough to get paid so I wasn’t concerned,” Chopra said.

Chopra balances part-time work with school, a tough juggling act that only works with

“My internship experience has really refined a lot of my work skills,” Chopra said. “I’ve always been a quick learner, extremely organized and been able to improvise, but it’s not until you’re in a high pressure situation that you really test yourself.”