Is an Unpaid Internship Worth It?


At NSCS, we always seek to open doors for our members. We truly believe that by supporting students in their efforts towards greater scholarship, leadership, and service, we can help them access amazing opportunities throughout the rest of their careers. One of the ways in which we do this is by offering internship opportunities for our members. We also help students find outside internships, often through our mentorship programs.

Many of the internships we are able to arrange for students are unpaid. Understandably, students often ask, prior to applying, whether an unpaid internship is really worth it. Our answer is a resounding “yes.” While an unpaid internship does not come with a paycheck, it does help prepare students for their careers in some very meaningful ways.

Here are some of the key reasons to pursue an unpaid internship:

College Credit for Real World Experience

College coursework is important. However, the most successful students are usually those who pursue real world experiences in addition to formal coursework. Participating in an unpaid internship usually allows you to receive college credit for real world work. If you’ve taken enough classes to satisfy your major requirements but still need to round out your semester, participating in an internship is a great way to diversify your college education. 

Soft Skill Development

There are a lot of so-called soft skills that employers like to see in new hires, and that students often need a little practice developing when they enter the working world. These skills involve clear communication, timeliness, goal setting, and self-evaluation. An unpaid internship is a great opportunity to start developing and deepening these soft skills. In fact, many internship programs are specifically designed to help students develop these soft skills.

Developing good soft skills through an internship will make you a better job candidate once you graduate. It will also make your first few months in the workforce easier as you won’t have to scramble to develop these skills for the first time.

Inside Experience in Your Chosen Field

Attending college in a certain field is often quite different from working in that field. For instance, studying engineering is different from working as an engineer. In an unpaid internship, you get to experience what it is really like to work in your chosen field. Maybe you’ll discover you love it and want to continue down this path. Or, maybe you’ll discover that there is a different career field you’re more interested.

There is nothing wrong with broadening your horizons and changing direction while you’re still in college and learning. For many students, it’s an unpaid internship that prompts that change.

Networking Opportunities

One of the very best reasons to seek an unpaid internship is for the networking opportunities. Participating in an internship is a great way to start building a network of professionals in your chosen field. Many students find great mentors through their unpaid internships. These mentors are able to help them find jobs, introduce them to other business owners and thought leaders, and offer personalized career advice.

Students who graduate with an established network usually have an easier time finding their first professional jobs. References from supervisors and managers you meet during your internship can be really helpful, too.

At first, an unpaid internship may not sound that appealing. However, it’s important to remember that these programs do pay off in a lot of tangible ways. If you’re looking for internship opportunities, consider becoming a member of NSCS. We offer a number of life-changing internships exclusively for our members.

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