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Is Your Unpaid Internship Worth It?

It is that time again, internship season. I know, all the CSOM kids have had theirs lined up for months now, but many of us (including myself) are still in the midst of applications and interviews. Soon you may be hearing back from many places, some paid and some unpaid. For those of you who are getting unpaid offers, they may not seem worth it. But before you immediately eliminate those options from your summer options, think about how great an unpaid opportunity can be.

I personally worked as an unpaid intern last summer, and most likely will do the same again this year. While I obviously wish that the position was paid, the internship was still completely worthwhile. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you take an unpaid position:

Is it part or full-time?

A full-time unpaid internship is a difficult pill to swallow. It is practically a sentence to making no money throughout the summer, unless you are willing to devote almost all of your weekend hours. If you don’t have a problem with this, then go for it! But if you do need to be making some kind of money, a part-time internship with a side part-time job is a much better option.

Is this what I think I want to do with my life?

An internship is a great way to finding out what you really think you want to pursue as a career. My internship from last summer actually taught me what I DON’T want to do. This can be equally enlightening and worthwhile. If the internship sounds like an amazing opportunity to learn about the field you want to explore, don’t worry about it being unpaid; the experience will be worth it.

What will my expenses be for the summer?

You have to ask yourself how much your summer is going to cost. Do you plan on living at home, or will you have to sublet? How often do you want to go out with friends, or are you planning a vacation or long weekend that you have to fund? You have to weigh how much you plan on spending compared to the fact that you may not be making as much money as you would hope to be.

What else would I be doing with my time?

If you are going to be home, working at your high school job for the summer, I recommend taking an unpaid internship instead. This of course only matters if you can answer the question above with being able to afford your summer plans. While you may make more money lifeguarding five days a week, future employers will be much more interested in the skills you can gain at an internship.

My father always says, “You can’t accept a job you aren’t offered.” This is how I feel about unpaid internships. Don’t rule out applying to them, because they can be phenomenal learning experience. The main issue with taking an unpaid internship is funding your summer, but if you can get that planned out I recommend you accept your offer.


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