Are Unpaid Internships Worth It?

December 09, 2016

Are you considering an unpaid internship? There is a healthy debate about unpaid internships. Many are questioning their legality or if they’re worth it, while others argue that they are the only way to get your foot in the door to your chosen career field. What’s the real story?

The Good: A Chance to Network and Build Skills

Unpaid internships can offer significant benefits to those who complete one. They give you experience in your chosen field, introduce you to potential employers and give you valuable work experience to add to your resume. If you’re in a highly competitive industry that lacks part-time job opportunities, this experience can be invaluable.

A legitimate internship won’t have you filing papers, getting coffee, or other work not related to your chosen field. You will work on professional projects and gain skills that will look good on your resume and are valuable once you apply for a real job. If it’s a creative gig, you will leave the internship with pieces for your portfolio that you can show future employers.

While you’re not being paid, unpaid internships can also come with other perks. There may be reimbursement for transportation or a free transit pass. You may get access to events or discounts to businesses in the area and have access to company equipment and facilities.

The Bad: Limited to the Well-Off

Because they are unpaid, these opportunities are easier for students from wealthy families to access. Unpaid internships can leave working class and even some middle-class kids shut out from the experience. Students who have to work to pay for school, help support their families or support themselves can’t spend a summer, even in a part-time capacity, working for free.

In industries that only offer unpaid internships, it means there is often a lack of racial and economic diversity among their employees. It is a particular problem for creative industries that often lack different voices and ideas because of their lack of diversity because the primary way of getting experience is often the unpaid internship.

The Ugly: Can Affect Earnings and Job Prospects

There’s some research that suggests taking an unpaid internship can cause you to earn less once you look for paid employment. Paid interns reported that they earned a median salary of $51,930 at their first jobs. Meanwhile, those who did unpaid internships earned a median of $35,721. That’s even less than the $37,087 median salary for those who did no internship at all.

You should take this research with a grain of salt: paid internships are often found in high-earning careers such as finance and engineering, so that may account for some of the financial discrepancies. The research does suggest, however, that at least some unpaid internships might not pay off in the long-run.

There is also the factor of employability. The same study that looked at earnings found that those who took unpaid internships were less likely to be employed than those who took paid internships. Over 60% of paid interns were offered a job after graduation, while only a 37% of unpaid interns were. This is just slightly better than the 35% of students with no internship experience.

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In the end, unpaid internships aren’t all bad or all good. They are a tool that, when chosen wisely, can be great for gaining experience, networking and learning new skills in your chosen industry.

About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.




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