There is a lot of ongoing debate about whether or not unpaid internships are “worth it” or not. Half the time when you Google that very question you’re met with positive “Yes! Absolutely!” and the other half is “100% No!”
Part of the debate deals with the opposing pros and cons. And, of course, most of the time the “worth” is dependent on the internship itself, the supervisor, potential coworkers, and of course perks.
- Valuable experience
The goal of any internship is to earn valuable, business-world experience. You will undoubtedly learn more than you set out to. Anything from how to compose a professional email, how to properly file things, how to manage your time and schedule, to interacting with others in a work place setting–all on top of the specific nature of the internship and the job you’ll perform.
- Relevant field
An internship isn’t just like a high school job. Internships are chosen based off your career interests, which means you’ll be working in a field relevant to your long term aspirations. Even if the internship is unpaid, you’re still learning the ropes and building blocks of what might be your future career path.
- College credits
Many internship opportunities can offer college credits in return for work–so even if you’re not getting a paycheck, you are still getting paid indirectly. By earning college credits, you reduce the number of overall credit hours required to graduate, which increases your likelihood of graduating on time as well.
An internship is an ideal place to network. By connecting with your coworkers, supervisors, and any other contacts you might make while working, you open up many doors of potential opportunity. Down the line your boss might be willing to write a recommendation letter. Maybe a coworker has a friend or contact that is looking to hire a candidate such as yourself. Maybe you enjoyed the internship so much that you’d like to work at that very company after graduation; awesome, you already have your foot in the door.
- It’s unpaid
Well, let’s start with the first and most obvious downside: you don’t get paid. You’ll be putting in a lot of time and hard work into your internship, and having a monetary reward would be nice. Having an unpaid internship also puts additional financial strain on you, since you’re not earning anything to put towards the cost of living or college expenses.
- Lack of financial experiences
On top of not earning a paycheck, you’re not necessarily earning the financial experience that goes along with a steady income. There won’t be budget balancing or other elements of personal finance that can come with paid internships.
You’ve heard all the stereotypes about the intern: they fetch the coffee, are the brunt of office jokes, and are the lowest on the rung. Sometimes that gap between interns and actual employees is furthered by the lack of payment. This could leave the intern feeling isolated within the structure of the company. Hopefully this won’t be the case, but it is a sad possibility.
- Grunt work
It can be tempting for workers to dump all of the tedious, menial tasks onto the intern, especially an unpaid one. You will do lots of meaningful work as an intern, but some of the responsibilities you’ll get will be mind-numbing things below your skill level. It’s just a truth to face.
So there are the pros and cons. It’s difficult to say with any sense of finality that an unpaid internship is or is not worth it. It really does depend on the individual and the specific responsibilities of the internship. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of an internship before making a decision.