As more and more high school students search for job experience and extracurricular opportunities, you may find yourself wondering: Are unpaid internships worth it? While it’s true that any exploration into the professional workforce provides insight into your future, some argue that the lack of monetary benefit doesn’t make this type of internship as valuable as others. Here, we’ll discuss the upsides and downsides of taking on unpaid internships as a student.
Factors to Consider 💡
Before jumping at an unpaid opportunity, it’s important to evaluate several aspects of your own needs and your potential employer’s needs.
Are there similar paid opportunities? 🤔
If it’s your first time foraying into the job world, you may be drawn to well-known companies and exciting positions that seem to suit you. However, you want to be careful not to be blindsided by an impressive title to put on your resume. Ask yourself if this opportunity is truly one in a million or if others may offer more perks.
Esther Freeman, director of the Odyssey Program at Elon University, encourages students to apply for paid internships first “to help minimize the financial burden of your degree.” However, if there isn’t much monetary loss on your part (i.e., virtual setting or no work commute), unpaid internships may be worth it.
Can you afford it? 💵
As a student, you might not have the means to support yourself in an unpaid position at this moment, which is completely normal. Costs such as transportation, rent, and food can quickly add up, especially if your internship is far from home.
In an age where student loans are higher than ever, it's important to weigh the benefits of an unpaid position with your financial needs. (Source: The Atlantic)
Some universities require internships for credit, and, as some students have noted, they may rack up expenses up to $1,000 per credit hour. While great for experience in your desired career, these fees may hinder your ability to enter the job market.
To mitigate this, try looking for opportunities in your area or accessible from home. Especially during the pandemic, remote jobs are more prolific than ever. Additionally, Charlene Jackson, Director of Cloud9 Insight, suggests negotiating or requesting to review pay after a certain amount of time may be worth a try. Just make sure that you establish a good relationship with your employer first!
Is it worthwhile for you? 🕑
Not all jobs are the same, and internships are no different. Unpaid internships can be best seen as coursework. Instead of an income, you’re able to receive other benefits, such as relevant industry experience, functional skills, and possibly networking in the field. Qualities of a successful intern, such as high motivation, may even lead you to a promotion or permanent role at the company. When considering this kind of position, ask yourself what exactly you get out of it. Are you enthusiastic about this line of work? Do you see yourself putting in the necessary hours? If so, you may be ready to put one foot through the metaphorical door.
This article goes into further detail about the "worth" of internships!
On the same note, be wary of illegitimate companies trying to entice you into working for them. Employers have the potential to exploit or take advantage of your unpaid labor, so it’s crucial to research on your own the legality and trustworthiness of this company before taking any next steps.
If you’ve already taken on an unpaid internship, be sure to evaluate your experience every step of the way. Is the work you’re doing worthwhile and enhancing your skills? And don’t forget to assess your attitude, too. If you’re passionate and putting in the effort, the chances are that you’ll impress your employer and hopefully unlock the door to new, exciting career paths.
Final Thoughts 💭
Overall, unpaid internships are what you make out of them. Whether you want to gain more expertise in your desired field, network with professionals, earn school or university credit, or all of the above, it’s possible to reap the benefits of an unpaid opportunity like any other. However, keep in mind that not all internships are created equal—make sure to evaluate the company’s legitimacy, self-imposed costs, and how worthwhile it will be for you. While we all love a sweet paycheck, sometimes unpaid positions can be just as valuable in the long run. 💵
If you're unsure about where to begin with the internship search, check out this guide to getting internships!