As a college student, it is important to take steps that will help you transition into the working world. One of those important steps, for many students, is completing an internship. An internship is an opportunity to learn what it’s like to work in your chosen field. It is also a chance to develop professional skills and make connections. However, a lot of internships these days are unpaid internships. Generally, you are given college credit, not money, in compensation for completing such an internship.
So, should you accept an unpaid internship? In many cases, the answer is “yes,” but it really depends on your circumstances. Here are some things to consider as you decide whether an unpaid internship is right for you.
Will the internship open a path towards a paid position?
In many cases, the internship you accept will be unpaid, but it will open the door to a paid position down the road. A lot of companies that hire unpaid interns are clear about this. They may tell you that a certain percent of their entry level hires have been interns. They may even have a specific program by which interns can transition directly from the unpaid internship to paid positions. If the company you’re applying for has not shared this type of information with you, feel free to ask. While you don’t want to make things “all about the money,” employers do understand that everyone needs a paycheck eventually.
Will the internship help build your network?
Networking is an important but often-overlooked step in the college experience. It’s often your network who helps you find that first paid position once you graduate. If you already have a strong network, then you may not need to take an unpaid internship. But if you’re like most students and have a rather short list of professional contacts, accepting an unpaid internship is one of the best ways to start making important connections.
Is the internship in the field you want to work in?
If the internship is not in a field you’re really passionate about, or if it is only tangentially related to what you want to do for a living, then it may not be worth accepting without pay. On the other hand, if you really want to work in a certain field and this internship is directly in that field, you’d be silly to say no. Nothing compares to direct experience working in a specific field. Even if the internship is unpaid, the experience you gain will help build your resume and make you a more competitive applicant in that field.
Do you have other ways to support yourself?
“Working” without pay as an unpaid intern may not be the smartest choice if you don’t have other ways to pay your bills. If you are trying to avoid taking out more student loans and you’re living independently, you may need to seek out a paid internship instead. Alternatively, see if you can find an unpaid internship that only requires a few hours of work per week. This way, you still get the networking and skill-building benefits of an internship, but you should have time to also work a paying job on the side.
Unpaid internships can be great opportunities for students who are looking to enter a certain field, build their networks, and enhance their professional skills. At the same time, they are not the best choice for every student. Consider the points above as you decide whether or not to accept an unpaid internship position.