College Advice Blog

Jul 2, 2012

Three Reasons You CAN Afford to Do an Unpaid Internship

Every year, millions of college students take on unpaid internships when paid internships can't be found because they know it is a smart investment in their future.  But there are some students who resist, balking at the idea of having to work for free.  Some complain that they feel their time is more valuable, but most students who refuse unpaid internships feel they need to make money to put toward tuition and other expenses. 

Not doing an unpaid internship was the worst mistake I made as a college student.  I was more focused on working paid menial jobs and taking summer classes in order to complete college faster and save money. 

Sure, I graduated debt free.  But I also left with no real work experience on my resume.  When it came time to apply for jobs, I had no way to compete with other graduates.  I ended up taking not one, but two unpaid internships after graduation in order to gain experience for my resume and become employable. 

Every time I look back, the older and wiser me yells “You CAN afford to do an unpaid internship, stupid! Take it!”  I would have saved myself a lot of time, disappointment, and frustration.  If you have the same opinion about unpaid internships as the college-aged me, stop and think about it.  There are several reasons why you can afford to take that unpaid internship.

Reason 1: Unpaid Internships Are Usually Flexible

One of the benefits of unpaid internships are that they tend to be more flexible than paid ones.  Supervisors of unpaid interns understand that students still need to make some money, so they will often let you adjust your schedule as needed.  This means that you may still have time for a part-time paying job, especially during the summer when you don't have classes. 

Reason 2: You Need the Experience

Unpaid internships will give you valuable experience for your resume.  In this tough economy, employers are expecting real-world experience.  If you don't have it, they will move on to another graduate who does.  Gone are the days where a college degree is all you need on your resume to land a job.  The experience you gain now will be far more valuable than the relatively small amount of money you can earn working a paid job.

Reason 3: Connections Are Valuable

Many students completely forget about the other benefit of an unpaid internship: connections.  A good unpaid internship will supply you with mentors who can give you career guidance and introduce you to people at other companies.  Paid internships can also supply you with connections, but supervisors of unpaid interns are often more willing to go the extra mile to help their interns because they feel the intern deserves the extra help in exchange for their hard work.

And you never know, the company you intern with may be hiring when you graduate.  If you're dedicated and hard-working now, they may hire you over another graduate later.  If you work at the corner store instead, the only option you'll be left with after graduation is, well, working at the corner store.

About the Author  
Allison Turner is a professional writer and career blogger.  She's also the editor of Campuses to Careers, a blog that helps young people make wise education and career decisions.  Topics covered on the blog include how to decide your salary requirements and how to tell if a job is a scam.

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