Students Should Take Unpaid Internships

19 02 2009



I was in college from 2002 – 2006 and completed 15 internships by graduation (Hence “Intern Queen”). My internships were at a variety of media, PR, marketing, and entertainment companies ranging from big names (FOX, MTV) to smaller names (Moore Public Relations, The Zimmerman Agency). NONE of these internships were Paid opportunities. I received one $100.00 stipend from Moore Public Relations and that’s it – no other monetary compensation. I did get college credit (through my university) for quite a few of my internships.  These internships were my favorite part of college and where I learned the most about myself, my future, and the workplace. I suggest every college student aim to participate in 2-3 internships by the time they graduate college. If you are lucky enough to find a paid internship opportunity, congratulations – they don’t  come around too often ! However, if the field you are interested in does not offer paid opportunities, I encourage you to take on these unpaid opportunities.


Why Students Should Do Unpaid Internships


·         EXPERIENCE. It’s a tough job market right now. You are up against even more job candidates then usual. What do these other job candidates have over you ? Experience. Earn your credibility by participating in an internship. It will stand out on your resume and show that have previously worked/interned in your field of choice.


·         NETWORKING. Everyone you meet during the course of your internship is now a contact. These people can help guide your career path as you make your way into the business world. These people know other people in the industry as well and can provide introductions for you. The fellow interns you meet may also become great contacts in the future.


Note: I still keep in contact with most of my internship coordinators (yes, all 15 of them). I also keep in touch with most of my fellow interns from over the years. Many of these people have gone off to start their own companies and several have helped get me jobs, interviews, and meetings throughout my career.


·         OBSERVING. Over the course of your internships you will be observing the way business professionals in your future industry conduct themselves, their lives, their work. You can really start to build an image of what your life would be like in this specific field. Many internship coordinators and employers will let interns sit in on meetings, attend brainstorms, and ask them tons of questions.


·         HANDS-ON. As an intern, you will be required to participate in several different tasks. Yes, you will most likely have to do the “boring work” aka making copies, making coffee, alphabetizing materials, etc. However, it is important to really learn how to do these tasks properly so that when you do enter the working world, you are already familiar with the basics of any office. Most interns also get a taste of more intricate duties depending on the field you are in.


Note: When I interned at the Zimmerman Agency (Public Relations/Advertising), I learned cold calling, pitching, how to write press releases, putting together press kits, etc. These are skill that should I have entered the Public Relations world, would have put me ahead of other candidates that didn’t have internship experience.


·         PURSUIT OR ELIMINATION. What if my internship doesn’t go well ? Many students worry that their internship experience might not be a great one. Even bad internships are beneficial to students. They help you establish what you like and what you don’t like, what you want to pursue and what you want to eliminate for your future. It’s much better to spend one semester interning at a company to determine it’s bad than to actually get a job and start a career at that company and then find out you aren’t interested.


I asked my Friends on Twitter What They Thought About Unpaid Internships:

“Unpaid internships are an way for students to show committment. Getting paid is easy, working hard for free takes dedication.” @nateerickson, Advertising Student at Michigan State.


“The benefit is def. experience. The downside is not being able to devote all of your time to it b/c you need $ to survive.” @Karahleigh,, Student at Valdosta State.


“I heard a PR pro say unpaid looks better on resume because it proves  the intern is willing to just do the work and take the experience as pay.” @laurgrob,, Student at University of Georgia.


“I’m kind of torn with that. Students with relevant experience shouldn’t do unpaid. It’s like designers working on spec. But then again some student just want SOME experience. Something to put on the resume. Just make sure u dont get ripped off.” @unearthingasia,


“As one of 25 unpaid NPR interns, my decision revolved around: a) make contacts b) get new skills c) learn other side of biz.” @internedition,


“The only reason I can think of for an unpaid internship is college credit. That’s what mine was for.” @jennips,


“I always took the best opportunity to learn. Sometimes that was paid, most of the time it wasn’t. Plus, you can find an org you really want to work for and offer to be an unpaid intern. Great way to get specific experience.” @PatrickEvans,


“I think all internships should be paid. The main reason I didn’t do any internships in college was because I couldn’t afford to.” @stuartcfoster,








3 responses

2 03 2009
5 reasons students should do unpaid internships « Blog

[…] Why Students Should Do Unpaid Internships […]

6 06 2009
How to get a summer internship in a nonprofit | Justice for all

[…] probably know already – but working in nonprofits is not, well, profitable. But you know what? You should still take an unpaid internship: you’ll gain significant experience, networking skills, and an insight into potential career […]

3 09 2009
Bill Bartmann

Cool site, love the info.

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