Unpaid Internships: Seven Things to Consider Before You Accept

Being an intern is no walk in the park. It’s one thing when you’re being compensated for your work in the form of a paycheck, but what happens when you have an offer on the table for one that is unpaid? You should always weigh your options, but here are a few deciding factors that you should take into consideration first.

  • For fall/spring internships, will it get in the way of your school work?

Being a full-time college student is difficult, especially once you add a job/internship to the mix. If you do decide to add more to your schedule, make sure you have some type of time management plan as well. Try situating your classes on two or three days a week or at night so you can intern and work. Your school work comes before everything else so if you fear that you may fall behind, it may be best to wait until the summer to intern.

  • Can you afford an unpaid internship?

This might be the toughest decision to grapple with. Speaking from personal experience, I had an unpaid internship last summer where I interned three days a week and got a job on my days off. In other words, I had the time and money to make it work. We all know that being “broke” is a common thread in the college lifestyle, but let’s face it, who wants to fall into that pattern? Don’t wear yourself too thin thinking the bills will pay themselves.

  • Is this just a “test run” for your major?

Sometimes, you are not 100 percent sold on your chosen major. An internship is the perfect way to see if you are truly committed to the day-to-day routine of your career path. If you end up loving it, great! If not, it is better that you found out now rather than once you enter the real job market.

  • Based on your research on the company and interview, could you see yourself working there long-term?

Is the company known to hire former interns for full-time roles? This is a question that you should consider asking during your interview for sure. The idea that your internship is basically an extended job interview definitely rings true, but having the reassurance that there is a high chance of getting hired after graduation could be an extra incentive.

  • If it is unpaid, can you at least get college credit for it?

Depending on your major, one of the requirements to graduate may be to have an internship that you get college credit for. Normally, unpaid internships automatically offer college credit, but finding out how many credits it is worth is crucial. That 1-3 credit jump can be the difference between how many classes you should be taking, or for the summer, how much money you will have to pay.

  • Will your internship require excessive travel? If so, will there be any help from your employer?

Traveling adds up. Whether you are taking public transportation or driving, it will definitely have a toll on your pockets. It is worth asking if the company can provide some type of travel stipend or compensate you another way such as giving a Metro card for the subway or a company gas card. Either way, any help with travel helps.

  • Should I be picky about whether it is paid or unpaid?

In my opinion, it all depends on your level of experience. Your first one or two internships are basically there to gain some knowledge in the field. As time goes on and you become more well-versed in your field of work, you have every right to be picky but BE CAREFUL! Being picky does not mean you should pass up an amazing unpaid opportunity at your dream company because you found an office internship that pays you. This also does not mean that you should be walking into your interview with the expectation of making $15 an hour off the bat. Companies like to see commitment to their brand, not to the paycheck! Build your experience first, both tangibly and on your resume, and remember to always read the fine print when it comes to those applications and offer letters. Once you have some impressive experience, then yes you can be picky. Apply to those paid internships and show them that you are worth every dollar they are paying you.

All in all, unpaid internships can provide just as much opportunity and experience as a paid one can- the only difference is that direct deposit on Fridays. Do not pass up on the opportunity of a lifetime, but also know when your work could be getting taken advantage of (AKA memorize these rights and stick to them).

I’m Kayla Nyree, and whatever will be, will be!

  • Kay

Featured photo courtesy of PRNDI.org.

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