5 Pros And Cons Of Unpaid Internships

So, here’s the thing— if someone tells you they know exactly what they want to do with his/her life right this minute, he or she is probably lying. I mean, very rarely does the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question get a full and genuine answer unless it’s “I don’t really know.” This is not to say some people don’t know what they want to do. My boyfriend has wanted to be a doctor since he was first asked the question in like kindergarden and is now studying for the MCAT… it happens. But unfortunately, unlike him, I still don’t entirely know. Beginning my senior year in high school, I found myself spending my last month of school interning at a (you’ll never guess it) daycare. For some reason, I thought this was a brilliant idea. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with my life— I was going into college with an undeclared major, I knew I loved children (note the past tense… kidding), and Kaleidoscope Kids was right around the corner from my house. Perfect… not.

It wasn’t until my second semester in college that I sort of new what I wanted to do. So I dabbled in internships with startups and in the television industry before finally making my way to the magazine industry, which is finally where I’m supposed to be. While this nonlinear path has led me to where I truly want to be (or at least somewhere similar), the “unpaid” aspect of this road has been less than easy.

When applying to and considering internship options, the word “unpaid” may seem daunting (trust me, I know), but it isn’t the end of the world. Before you click “next” on your internship search page because it’s “for credit only,” consider the pros and cons.


Résumé Booster

Believe it or not, the unpaid internships are the ones that everyone wants. Companies take full advantage of knowing that their name will be enough to attract some of the best interns, so they choose to save money and have their internship programs be “for credit only.” In reality, it’s true. High school and college students seeking incredible internships are not going to turn down their dream internship at a large publication or business just because they won’t be paid. Adding the job title to their résumés is worth the sacrifice of having empty wallets.


In any internship, paid or unpaid, you have to make the most of what you are given (or what you aren’t). Networking is a prime example of compensation worth far more than minimum wage. Some of the people I have met through my rollercoaster of a ride have been such amazing supporters and have shown genuine interest in my growth and progress, knowing that they too were in my position however many years ago. Meeting new people and staying in contact with old bosses, employers, and even other interns, is what will really make for a worthwhile experience. Networking in any internship is the major key.

Learning Experience

The fact of the matter is that no matter how well you do in your classes or how much you think you’ve learned from any course required for your major, nothing you learn in school is as valuable as experience. Internships give you the ability to learn first hand what makes a successful employee, how an industry works, and how to work with others in a professional environment. Not only are internships useful for finding out what you like, they are also the most important step in learning what you don’t like. After a hard day at an internship, you look back and realize, maybe this isn’t the perfect fit for you, but now that you know, you’re that much closer to the perfect job. It’s much better to find out what you don’t like when you’re in a position for a few months than to realize it when you’re locked in for a few year contract. Use the time to learn.


No Income

This one is pretty obvious, but it’s the real kicker for most people. Not having an income for an entire semester (or quarter/however your school divides up the year) is extremely challenging and you have to make sacrifices. No more buying everything you see on sale or going out to dinner every night. Finding a way to balance what you have and not lose it all is difficult, but doable. The most unfortunate part about most unpaid internships though, is that they require credit. And how does one get credit? By paying for it, of course! So, in the end, between paying for credit and sometimes transportation, you actually end up losing money. As I always say, your résumé will love you, your wallet will hate you— but, you can’t always win them all.

Need Side Gig

Another reason why unpaid internships are so difficult is because it’s unrealistic for everyone with an unpaid internship to have no source of income for several months, if not a whole school year. Because of this, side gigs are often the only way of surviving your personal economic depression. The important thing here is that you balance your time and also make sure you are still having some fun and taking time for yourself once in awhile.

Just think about it and weigh your options. No matter what you choose, you’ll do awesome.