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Benefits and Cautions of an Unpaid Internship

Why would anyone ever want to work for free? That is the central question people ask themselves when they first hear about unpaid internships. Unpaid internships are where someone goes to work for a company, business, or organization for free. In return, they receive knowledge about how to work in that environment. While it may sound unethical to work for free, these unpaid internships can actually help boost your overall career.

Some people can’t afford higher education to pursue the career they want. An unpaid internship, however, can give you hands-on access to learn how to do the job. When applying for the job, the unpaid internship can be a substitute for the higher education requirement. Not only that, but if you are an undergraduate student at a university and thinking about applying to a graduate program, they actually look to see how many internships you’ve completed. Many graduate schools are more likely to admit students who have completed an internship and received hands-on experience in the field they are applying for.

Internships should give you valuable knowledge of the job. It shows that you are serious about that specific career path. You will be able to market those skills in your resume, which will advance you beyond your competition. You will be viewed as a primary candidate in the job or program you are pursuing because it will be assumed that you have a greater knowledge of the topic over the other applicants.

The rule of thumb is to go for a minimum of three internships, and fingers crossed that you can get paid for them. If you’re currently in an undergraduate program, it would be wise to complete at least one internship a year to show steady, continuous access to the knowledge needed for what you are pursuing. You can find internships on indeed.com, Snagajob.com, and by contacting your University’s career services department if you go to college.

Don’t worry if the career you are pursuing doesn’t have any internships available. Some places do not consider hiring interns until one shows up and offers their services. If you know you want to work in a hospital, law firm, etc., but can’t find any of those businesses looking to hire interns, then go to the location yourself with your resume and offer your services. Check out Insider for tips on how to convince someone to hire you.

Don’t tell the company up-front if you’re willing to work for free because they may just surprise you with a well-paid internship. If they are looking to turn you away, then it would be wise to drop the knowledge that your eager and excellent, hardworking services could be provided for free in exchange for experience. That is if you are in the financial position to work for free. I don’t know any business that will turn away free labor to someone looking for internship credit. Internships can also come in handy when you begin looking for a permanent job. If you completed an internship and did well, then they can be a great source to apply for a full-time position later on.

Internships can be great, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to do an unpaid internship, and some of them are not good opportunities. Being able to do an unpaid internship and work for free is a privilege. Not everyone is able to work for free because they need to support themselves. In this case, an unpaid internship would not be an option, and instead paid internships would obviously be the smartest route. Some companies take advantage of students looking for job experience for their resume and will have a student work harder than their actual employees. Some businesses take advantage of unpaid interns to get free labor without giving them the benefit of knowledge to take away from the experience. Be sure to ask the employer what knowledge you can expect to walk away with so that you know you’ll be getting something beneficial out of the exchange. If you realize that your energy is being taken advantage of, don’t be afraid to step away from the internship.


Grace Thomas

Coastal Carolina '21

Grace Kelli Thomas is a senior Forensic Psychology major with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She enjoys reading, painting, and helping others. Her goals in life are to be a counselor for at-risk youth or on a college campus and eventually a college professor. She also hopes to participate in activism and be an author.
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