Having a Paid Internship May Be More Impactful Than an Unpaid Internship

One day, I was sitting in my English class during my senior year of high school. My teacher began talking about how college has been redefined as “job preparation for the real world.” The trick to that statement is that not only is college considered job preparation, but we also need jobs to prepare for a career during college.

During high school and college, I have had two internships. One was through an insurance company and another was through an advertising/marketing company that I still currently work with. I would have been pushed back in my preparation for my future career if I did not get paid at either job. I have worked a large number of hours while being a full-time student. Not to mention, the pay has helped me create a solid foundation of savings and has helped pay for my car payments, gas money, utility bills, etc.

Getting a job with a scheduled, bi-weekly pay gives a student the guarantee of avoiding “free labor exploitation.” This applies to any internship in any field of study. In a perfect world, we would like to believe that every company has good intentions behind the work they give their employees. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Those in favor of unpaid internships can counterargue that they “…help aspiring professionals get on-site experience and résumé entries that can spur their careers” (Forbes, Susan Adams, 2014). Although this is a valid statement, it comes with a cost. One can argue that “…unpaid positions exploit workers, take jobs from would be entry-level employees, favor the privileged who can afford to make no money, and perhaps most importantly, break longstanding labor laws” (Forbes, Susan Adams, 2014).


person holding money Sharon McCutcheon

To further explain the importance of paid work, let’s put it into perspective. Opportunity cost is a benefit or value of something that has to be given up achieving something else (Business Dictionary, 2019). The opportunity cost in this situation would be accepting an offer for an internship that’s unpaid compared to another one with a guaranteed pay wage. In Pennsylvania, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Say this internship is during the duration of the summer, “if a college student were to work for the recommended 40 hours a week for 12 weeks, Hess explains that this would amount to $3,480” (CNBC, Abigail Hess, 2017).  Money like that can go a long way, especially for a college student.

“You are better off getting paid. You are worth more than chronic volunteer work” (WSJ, Patrick Thomas, 2018). Not only should you be able to be paid for your time, effort, and talents you put in, you should be able to be financially stable. With a bi-weekly pay, it would help college students with housing, loans, car payments, utilities, and even simply saving up for the future. With the jobs I had, I would not have been able to afford the commute or the car payments if it was an unpaid position. Companies should not be able to put this burden on desperate college students wanting to gain experience.

There has already been a backlash, and at some rather big companies too. Employers are forced to recognize this issue, whether they want to or not. Robert Walters PLC, a global professional recruitment consultancy, had to recently change their unpaid position into paid ones due to backlash from colleges. Colleges in New York stopped referring students to their program due to the unpaid positions.


The company released statements that said, “Going forward, we are going to be more competitive and do away with the unpaid internships,” and “Hiring managers say rising competition for workers is forcing employers to pay more for talented interns or relax their hiring standards” (WSJ, Patrick Thomas, 2018).

These results benefit everyone. It gives the employee deserved pay and the company receives good recognition in return that will eventually draw in more college students in the area. Don Carter, who oversees the HR department at a media-marketing agency in Chicago, states that “[p]aid opportunities mean an intern is more likely to return as a full-time employee in the future if they enjoyed the experience” (WSJ, Patrick Thomas, 2018).

Not only is it financially helpful to be paid, but it is also beneficial for future growth as well. Having a paid internship will not only strengthen your resume, but many studies also show that a paid internship gives graduating students a “one-up” over unpaid internships. The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a survey to show the difference between those employed and what correlations the jobs had to the internships being paid and unpaid. The numbers show.



As stated, “hiring rates for those who had chosen to complete an unpaid internship (37%) were almost the same for those who had not completed any internship at all (35%). Students who had any history of a paid internship, on the other hand, were far more likely (63%) to secure employment” (Forbes, Rachel Burger, 2014). “Those with unpaid internships tended to take lower-paying jobs than those with no internship experience whatsoever ($35,721 and $37,087, respectively.) Students with paid internships far outpaced their peers with an average $51,930 salary” (Forbes, Rachel Burger, 2014).

With these statistics, it goes to show the everlasting effects on what kind of internship you take during college. The best advice I can offer is to be cautious and careful where you send your resume. Conduct research behind the company you want to work for. Also, make sure the job you are applying for is worth the time and money you put into it. Money can go a long way for college students. Paid internships are opportunities that college students cannot afford to miss out on.