The University Network

Are Unpaid Internships Worth it?

If you ask your parents, who likely had a job directly after college, chances are, they never had an internship. Today, it’s a different story. Your college advisors are telling you the truth when they say employers don’t hire those without internship experience.

In some ways, the modern developed need for internships is beneficial. Internships teach students the details of their field, so talent and experience entering the workforce is greater than ever before. Paid internships exist, but are scarce, and often require prior experience earned from an unpaid internship. With high tuition rates, rent, utility bills, and everyday costs of living, student debt is rising. This often forces students to choose between a job at the local pizza place, or a summer of unpaid labor that could potentially open doors for the future.

Here is a list of ups and downs to help you decide whether an unpaid internship is right for you.


1. Enhances your resume

Resumes are an extension of you. When applying for jobs, we are broken down into a stack of paper and placed on a desk. The content, which makes your paper stick out, is what rewards you with a chance to demonstrate your personal benefit to an employer. Without a list of relevant prior experience, your resume will likely end up in the shredder. So how do you stand out? By showing a strong list of relevant experience.

Without any internship experience, you will fall behind your peers. In 2013, 67 percent of college graduates had at least one internship and those numbers aren’t getting smaller. With an increasing and overwhelming number of college graduates, a university diploma, alone, is not enough to earn you a job.

2. Adds to experience

Internships reward students with tools and knowledge of their field that can’t be taught in a lecture hall. Interns often learn new tools, such as operating systems or online formatting programs, that can boost their employee value. Newfound skills should also be noted on a resume.

3. Potentially leads to job offer

Unpaid internships or work experience also can often lead to paid internships with the same company, or a similar company in the same field. Part-time internship opportunities can be very valuable. If there is time to work the internship and maintain a job on the side, there is a good chance that your internship can develop into something greater.

4. Adds to networking contacts

Networking is the key factor to getting a job. Recommendations make an employer’s job easier. No one wants to sort through endless resumes and cover letters, send out rejection and acceptance letters, and conduct interviews. Employers are likely to offer jobs, or at least offer an interview, to a reference from a friend. It is imperative to reach out to your boss, paid workers, and other interns. Even if the company you intern at can’t afford to take another member on board, they may be willing to set you up with a business in the same line of work. The world of business is smaller than it appears. Often, who you know matters more than what you know.

5. Confers other benefits

Employers are aware of the financial struggles that many interns face. If your boss can’t afford to pay you for your work, you may still get help in other ways. A common contribution is reimbursement for transportation fees. If you are working in a city, ask for a public transportation stipend. If you are driving to work every day, ask to be reimbursed for gas. If you are motivated and valuable to a company, there is a good chance the company will do what it can to help you.

Many colleges require internships to graduate, or treat them as class credit. In this case, ask your employer to fill out your university forms to move you one step closer to graduation.


1. Takes advantage of students

College tuition fees are consistently rising. It has become next to impossible for a student to graduate from college without any debt. And now students have an overwhelming expectation to work full-time jobs without any earnings. To get a job in our current system, you have to pay for it, literally.

Most available internships are in cities. If you grew up in a rural location that doesn’t have a market for your field, you will have to live away from home. This adds rent, food, and travel to the list of expenses. Students are expected to be able to afford all of this without pay?

2. Limits rights and opportunity

Interns are not legally employed by the companies that hire them. This is what makes it legal for companies to pay lower than minimum wage, or not pay at all. It also means that interns are not protected by laws that exist to protect other employees.

Internships may seem to benefit your chances of landing a job after college now, but they can have an adverse effect after graduation. Companies can hire a few unpaid, part-time interns to cover the tasks of a previously paid employee. It is reported that for the Class of 2014, 8.5 percent of college graduates are unemployed. Much of this is due to interns being able to cover responsibilities for entry-level jobs for a cheaper price.

The bottom line

Just like jobs, internships — both paid and unpaid — are hard to come by. If you are lucky enough to be accepted into an internship program I advise that you take it. It is better to take out loans and ask family members for money when you are young and have a future ahead of you, rather than later in life. Working a minimum wage summer job could put spending money in your pocket, but these kinds of jobs are most often dead ends. With the competitive market of today, jobs don’t come without prior experience. Internships open up doors for the future and the majority of them start without pay. Overall, unpaid internships are a necessary path that could catapult you into a successful career.