Career Planning

The Value of Unpaid Internships

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By: Madison White, Uloop

Justifying an unpaid internship can be difficult in a money-driven society. Often, an unpaid internship’s value is only discovered after it’s over and sometimes even years later. Explaining this to your college student may be difficult when they’re looking for something with more instant gratification.

Yet, unpaid internships offer a lot of benefits in the long-run, ones that far exceed the benefits of paid, short-term opportunities. When your student is considering whether or not to take an unpaid internship, consider these four points:

1. Think of the long-term versus the short-term benefits

College students may have a bad habit of only thinking about short-term success. For them, especially in their first or second years, graduation can seem ages away and it’s best not to dwell on the future. An unpaid internship has little to offer on short-term benefits. It’s basically free labor that the student does when they could be getting paid for it or doing something more fun.

A paid, but menial job offers little outside of small monetary value. While this money may make a difference in the short term, that job is unlikely to help them land a real career later on. An unpaid internship is a long-term benefit that your student probably won’t see right away.

Sometimes this kind of crucial experience can be the make or break factor of getting a decent job right out of college. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly what leads to success and what doesn’t, but it’s almost certain that a hiring manager would prefer someone with relevant experience over someone who doesn’t have any.

2. A win-win situation

Unpaid internships don’t have to be all work and no gain. Your student may be worried about the time an unpaid internship would take away from their studies or their part-time job. What if they could kill two birds with one stone?

Many universities have already set up internship programs that transfer for college credit as co-ops. At most colleges, if you’re willing to do the paperwork, you can get pretty much any relevant internship to transfer for some college credit. That’s an entire class (or two) that your student won’t have to take!

Especially if your student is already strapped for time, an unpaid internship may be the best option to gain experience because of the college credit option. Plus, if they’re unpaid, there are probably fewer restrictions on when and how much they have to work. Rather than being bound to an internship like a job, an unpaid internship offers a level of flexibility unmatched by many other paid opportunities.

3. References

As a recent college grad, I was always surprised at how many students went through college without making any connections with their professors. Especially at larger schools, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd and distance yourself from forming a network.

College often flies by and before your student knows it, they’re going to be looking at application reference pages and scrambling to find people to ask. Rather than having this issue, an unpaid internship can very easily solve the issue of references.

During an internship, your student is likely to work with all types of people from coworkers to managers to bosses themselves. Because they’re an intern, it’s easy for them to shadow people and ask questions rather than just having to focus on the task at hand. Internship managers are usually more than happy to supply reference letters for their former interns. It’s a great way to ensure that your student exits college with at least a dependable reference.

4. Extra perks

While your student may not be getting paid directly during an unpaid internship, there are usually many other perks that come with working in an office. Large companies may come with access to company facilities and equipment. They may have access to special events because of their association with the company. They might even score some free coffee and lunches while they’re working there.

Besides the tangible things, unpaid internships offer such an exclusive insight into any working field. There are so many secrets, tips, and tricks of the trade that simply cannot be found just by searching the internet. An unpaid internship’s worth can be hard to evaluate because it can’t really be judged monetarily. Asking friends and older peers who have had unpaid internships may help to explain their value to your student.

In some cases, an unpaid internship just isn’t feasible for students. However, if your student has the opportunity and the ability to take an unpaid internship, it is worth it to try and discuss the benefits. They are frequently a missed opportunity and one that your student surely doesn’t want to regret later on. They just may find their internship to be a career saver.

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