FORTUNE -- If you ever worked as a summer intern, you probably earned a pittance (if you were paid at all). And that was okay, because you were doing it mostly for the experience, right? On the whole, that hasn't changed much: The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the average undergraduate intern in the U.S. will earn around $16 an hour, or $2,500 a month, this year.
Some, however, will pull down a lot more. Consider: Summer help at big-data-analysis software firm Palantir (it's named after a magic stone in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) will make an average of $7,012 per month, or a little over $84,000 on an annualized basis, according to a recent list of the top-paying U.S. internships by career site Glassdoor. That's not too shabby, considering that median household income in the U.S. now stands at $53,046.
Twitter (TWTR) interns will do pretty well too, at $6,791 per month, while LinkedIn (LNKD), Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT), and eBay (EBAY) are all offering average monthly pay over $6,000. Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) come close, at $5,969 and $5,723. Most of the companies that made Glassdoor's list are high-flying tech companies, but even oil exploration giant Schlumberger, last in the ranking, plans to pay its interns a monthly stipend of $4,634.
"The vast majority of employers can't pay interns anything close to these figures," notes Allison Willoughby, senior vice president of people at Glassdoor. But most companies don't have to. Glassdoor's surveys of interns themselves show that the only thing that matters more than money is "real world experience," which eight out of 10 interns said was more important to them than the size of their paycheck.
"Interns do not want to be fetching coffee. They want employers to give them substantive work to do," Willoughby says. "It takes a lot of thought beforehand" -- including a plan for evaluating the kids' work when the internship ends: "They really want an honest performance appraisal, so they know how they did."
What else does it take to recruit topnotch talent when you can't pay top dollar? One cost-free feature of an attractive internship program is "transparency," Willoughby says. "The experience has to give people a true taste of what it would be like to work there."
That's partly just practical. Summer workers are a big pool of potential new hires: NACE reports that almost 60% of employers offer full-time jobs to their interns after graduation. But it's also a matter of fairness, so that interns can see what they might be getting into. A lawyer by training, Willoughby did her share of summer stints at law firms "where it was all parties all the time -- not at all what a real job there would be like," she says.
By contrast, "some tech companies that offer the highest-paying internships are going to demand a lot of the interns they bring on board. It's partly a way of screening out anybody who doesn't want to work 24/7."
Glassdoor's surveys show, too, that interns want contact with top management, or at least a chance to meet the people in charge and maybe even ask a few questions. Tech companies, especially those that are still relatively small, are appealing in large part because "interns know that they'll be working side by side with decision makers, at least some of the time," notes Willoughby.
"It can be tough to replicate that in a huge organization," she adds. "But the more hands-on and involved senior people can be, the better the chances of attracting great interns" -- the kind that may be sitting in the C-suite themselves someday.
A lateral job change can put you on a better path, or it can lead nowhere. If you're offered a step sideways, here's what to ask beforehand.Anne Fisher, contributor - Mar 6, 2014 12:09 PM ET
Persistence is good, but peskiness isn't. Here are some thoughts on the fine line between showing enthusiasm and seeming desperate.Anne Fisher, contributor - Feb 27, 2014 12:11 PM ET
Once you get to the top of the corporate ladder, there's still plenty more to learn from the bottom.
By Kip Knight
FORTUNE – What has defined much of my career is a line from the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird: "You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
In my early days at MOREFeb 24, 2014 11:23 AM ET
Working from home productively takes certain traits that would-be telecommuters (and their bosses) can often spot ahead of time.Anne Fisher, contributor - Feb 21, 2014 11:49 AM ET
Employee turnover is at a post-recession high, and IT staffers are more restless than most. Keeping them will take money -- and more.
FORTUNE -- For any company hoping to hang on to its stars these days, the odds are daunting. The number of people quitting their jobs climbed to new heights in December 2013, up 49% from a recessionary low of 3.4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. MOREAnne Fisher, contributor - Feb 20, 2014 11:26 AM ET
Some interviewees show up so well prepared that, to get unrehearsed answers, hiring managers have to ask fewer predictable questions.Anne Fisher, contributor - Feb 14, 2014 9:37 AM ET
No one likes being a harbinger of doom, so breaking bad news often gets put off for too long, or done badly, or both. Here's how to spit it out.Anne Fisher, contributor - Feb 6, 2014 2:46 PM ET
As professional and personal lives blend, the full-time job should be an option – not the goal.
By Sophie Wade
FORTUNE – Are we approaching a decade of discontent?
We hear much about the jobless, and that those who've found work should simply be grateful. However, Americans aren't happily employed. More than half, 70%, of U.S. employees reported last year that they were actively dis-engaged or not engaged in their work, according to MOREFeb 5, 2014 11:14 AM ET
The U.S. has too many lawyers chasing too few partnership-track jobs at law firms, but there are other ways to make the most of a J.D. degree.Anne Fisher, contributor - Jan 30, 2014 2:25 PM ET
|AT&T cuts prices again|
|Can Fox's reboot of 'Cosmos' find an audience?|
|Winners and losers of the bull market|
|The medical marijuana ad that never aired, despite contrary media headlines|
|Chrysler Group orders donated Vipers destroyed|