Are Unpaid Internships Worth It?

Throughout college, I would often hear everyone talking about how an internship would really help you in building your resume and getting you started in your career path. Great! I thought, Where do I sign up? When I found out that the majority of internships are unpaid, my heart sank.

There was no way that I could afford to not work for the summer. I was already taking out $6,000 a year in student loans and working my butt off to support myself during the school year. How was I going to manage without having any cash on hand?

At the end of my college career, I had worked through two summer internships. The second of the two actually gave me my first job out of college and helped launch my career in journalism and eventually public affairs.

Are unpaid internships worth it? In my opinion, yes. 100%.

Internships help prepare you for your first job. They humble you and remind you that while you may be the popular kid in school, you’re still just a small fish in a big pond. There is no room for egos in the corporate world. Most bosses appreciate hard workers who pay their dues. And an internship is all about paying your dues and learning as much as possible so that you can apply those skills at your first full-time job out of college.

Internships provide you a recommendation. With a recommendation from my first internship, I was able to land my second internship the following summer. Not only that, but having an internship is the beginning of expanding your network. Don’t just leave your internship and forget about your old boss. Send them a Christmas card, friend them on Facebook, follow them on LinkedIn. With all the social media today, there is no excuse for losing connections. And your internship is all about building connections.

Internships help you land a job. Not only do internships look good on an entry-level resume, but many times you’ll be able to land your first job out of college from your internship (if they’re hiring) or they will try and help you find a job at another firm if they really liked you enough. Don’t burn bridges because you never know how a job will land in your lap. Of the four jobs I’ve earned in the past seven years of my career, I heard about two of them from colleagues who recommended me.

But what about the money? If you really absolutely cannot afford to go unpaid, then you’re going to have to figure out a way to make it work. Work on the weekends, work in the evenings or arrange something with your internship. Many internships are not full-time so that will allow you to work on the off-days. Save up money during the school year. Or find a stipend to cover your costs.

I ended up winning two stipends for each internship I held in college that helped cover my costs for the summer. While it completely sucks to be working for free, the connections and knowledge you gain from an unpaid internship is invaluable.