Unpaid internships are worth the time spent
The first tip that an advisor will give you upon entering college is the following: do not accept any unpaid internships. What they leave out of that sentence is, “...without the benefit of receiving school credits.” While some may consider this common knowledge, it can also be misleading and take away from the most important connections made during a student’s time at school.
Building relationships with professors and peers can be beneficial, but connections within the workforce are fruitful beyond measure. For pay or for credit, any internship’s benefits will outweigh the cost of essentially working for free for a few months.
I have held an unpaid internship for the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic. This internship has not only given me priceless experience and connections within my field of interest, but I have also fulfilled four college credits. I have not been paid for an hour of my time, but I would not take back a single minute of the time spent with this company. I have also kept a part-time job on the side to pay my bills. Is it hard? Of course. Is it worth it? I hope so.
One of my biggest takeaways has been the relationships I have developed with my supervisors. According to Money Under 30, “expectations are often looser for unpaid internships, so they can be a great way to get experience without the stress of a paid position.” The weekly meetings I have with my supervisor are not only about work; they also serve as an opportunity to catch up and get to know each other on a personal level. This feels more like an actual human connection rather than a manager-employee relationship.
This being said, there should always be a clear path for your internship. Several years ago, Power Digital released a video highlighting the fact that although their internships are unpaid, interns will not be house-cleaners and coffee-runners. They are part of the team and are expected to grow with the company. About 50% of their interns get brought on full-time after graduation. Interns are gaining real-world experience for the payment of course credit with the opportunity to earn a job after graduation.
Obviously, not everyone can accept an unpaid internship as everyone’s financial situation differs. Check with your school to find out if you can obtain course credit for the internship as this should be the only way that one works without compensation. With this option, the internship is just a class that will help you in the long-term.
While working without pay can seem pointless or as though time could be spent better working somewhere for pay, often the best connections and opportunities arise from unpaid, relaxed internships. These internships should not be long-term and should eventually lead to a position that pays you for your time. But, working for class credit is a great entry-level experience and can lead to the brightest career paths.
By Hannah Fogelstrom
Hannah is a senior at San Diego State studying public relations with a minor in religious studies. She has been an intern at Power Digital marketing since August 2020 and briefly interned at PDM before COVID-19. After graduation, she hopes to move to New York or remain in San Diego. She wants to work for a CPG agency or in entertainment PR.