For many college students, choosing between making money and gaining valuable experience has become all too common. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 50 percent of recent college graduates have held internships and as many as half of those were unpaid.
Supportive parents may find themselves conflicted about what advice to give their students: When they’re already strapped for cash, does working for free really make sense? Will the investment of time (and in some cases, money) for an unpaid internship pay off in the long run? Is the experience gained more valuable than what can be learned at a paid job or in the classroom?
There are several ways to guide your student’s decision when facing an unpaid internship. First, consider the legal criteria, released by The United States Department of Labor, which clarifies exactly what constitutes a fair, unpaid internship at a for-profit company:
Second, encourage your student to consider the following tips to make sure she’s not being duped into an unfair internship:
In order to receive college credit for an internship, your student will need to talk to her professors and/or an academic advisor. They will understand typical internship situations and will make sure this internship is a good fit.
While an internship doesn’t secure a future job, it can be helpful to know how frequently the employer hires former interns. If the company is on a hiring freeze or rarely leads to full-time employment, your student will want to weigh that against the benefits of what experience she’ll gain and what doors of opportunity this might open for her.
Before your student accepts an internship offer, make sure she knows what will be expected of her and what she can expect of the experience. What hours will she work? What duties will she perform? With whom will she work? What will she learn about the industry and profession?
Holding an internship is rarely like a golden ticket that will open doors and pave the way to a successful career. It’s one step in the process to building up experience and learning what your student wants in a job and a vocation. If taking an internship will put her into debt or keep her from other meaningful opportunities, it might not be worth it. This is a perfect chance for your student to practice defining priorities and making difficult decisions.
Most internships include an evaluation on behalf of the intern and the supervisor at the end of the internship. Your student will gain insight from her evaluation that will improve her professionalism and prepare her for the next internship or job, and the supervisor will find ways to improve the process for future interns.