Unpaid internships: The pay is so much more than dollars and cents

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Molly Sweeney

It seems as if everything in life is debated as to whether or not it is ethical or unethical. As most sophomores, juniors and seniors look to the summer in less than a month, the phrase summer internship often comes to mind. A requirement in most majors, and a recommendation by many to gain real-world experience, internships are a staple in the lives of college students everywhere.

Much to the dismay of many, most of these internships are unpaid, which has made the question of are unpaid summer internships unethical? Become a part of everyday conversation. Technically speaking, unpaid internships can be viewed as free work for companies, but if one were to look at the end result of the work that was completed throughout the 10 or 12-week internship, the results would be priceless. Taking on interns is challenging for companies because they need to train someone brand new on the way things work in a specific work environment, and they become tasked with teaching students real-life skills, in hopes that their interns will take advantage of the time in which they are working at their internships.

Between May 2013 and the end of April 2015, I have had four unpaid internships. I have worked over 300 hours unpaid over the summer compared to the nights that I worked at my paid part-time job. Yes, it would have been nice to be paid in dollars and cents for those 300 hours, working 8 a.m. to 11 or 12 a.m. but the experience that I gained, the connections that I made and the tangible work that I have been able to say, “I did this” makes my internships priceless.

You can’t pay for connections, unless maybe you upgrade to LinkedIn Premium for $29.99 a month. You can’t pay for a portfolio filled with samples of work, unless you go out and work. And students can’t expect to become CEO of a company until they have started from the bottom and worked their way up. It’s hard not being paid, and sometimes it seems as if students are putting all of this time into a job without getting anything out of it, but that is far from true. It is time to give up the debate as to whether or not it is ethical to work “for free,” and begin realizing how much worth truly comes from the experience of having an internship.

For some being able to take on an unpaid internship and “work for free” is feasible, but some do not have the financial means to not work a paid 40 hours a week during the summer. My point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to work long nights and weekends to chase after your dream job, and internships can only help you get there.

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