The Unpaid Internship: Taking the Plunge…Without the Pay

The unpaid internship: an anomaly to some of our parents, and to us even. Working long hours, with no monetary compensation, on top of a hefty credit load is undoubtedly not quite what we want to be doing in college. Thus, the question remains: why have so many of us taken the plunge into the world of unpaid work? Is it because we feel as if we simply have no choice? Even entry-level jobs require some experience, and without an impressive resume it will be that much more difficult to find a job in this already struggling economy.

During my freshman year of college, I started volunteering for a nonprofit on campus. It was a lot of work, but I also learned a lot, and networked with a wide range of faculty, numerous organizations, and countless students. The experience provided a few additional lines to my resume, and also opened other doors for me. The summer after that first year at WVU, I got a full-time position as an intern – a paid intern – at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS); the people were spectacular, the job was rewarding, and the experience was simply unforgettable. If I hadn’t taken the plunge into volunteering during school I would not have been offered the internship position. And my summer at LLS? Yep, you guessed it, it just led to another open door.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have discovered a lot of paid internships over the past few years. I wrongfully assumed that I would be able to go my next four years of school without another unpaid opportunity. Now, it seems that these types of internships are the only ones I can find.

Even high-profile companies, who certainly have the funds to pay their interns minimum wage, clearly state that any opportunities to work for them are for “COLLEGE CREDIT ONLY.” Even the way they inform you of this little detail – the all caps and bold letters – seem to be a smack in the face. But honestly, can you blame them? It is a business after all, and they may not remember what it was like to be a student, or recent graduate. Firms and companies that do have paid internship programs naturally have more competitive standards, and guidelines, for applications. These applications may be long and tedious, but they are definitely worth the time, and effort.

This summer I have decided to take on an unpaid, virtual internship with a national public relations organization. The great thing about this opportunity is not only that I can do it from home,  or anywhere else I decide to travel this summer, but also that there’s a possibility of it turning into a real job. Although I’m still searching for a paid position to earn some cash for the ever-rising cost of textbooks, I’m very excited about the opportunity. Even unpaid internships are exciting; you meet new people, sometimes travel, grow your portfolio, and get real, hands-on experience.

Now that I’m inching even closer to graduation, I’m so thankful that I took on both the paid, and unpaid, internships that I have. The weight of college loans is heavy on my shoulders, and getting the unpaid internships out of the way makes me more qualified for a paid internship, or entry-level position, after graduation.

My advice to you? Get the unpaid internships under your belt, and out of the way. Having it listed on your resume shows you care about the experience more than the money, and about the company – or cause – you chose to dedicate your time to. It also shows that you’re passionate about what you do. Although it’s a bummer to reach the realization that a paycheck will not in fact be arriving in the mail for you, it will be well worth your time, and effort,  in a few months.

What do you think of unpaid internships? Any experiences? Share the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’d love to hear them!

Best of luck taking the plunge!

Ashleigh Pollart!/Ash_Valentina


5 Responses to “The Unpaid Internship: Taking the Plunge…Without the Pay”
  1. I worked as an unpaid intern at a local paper during high school and when I returned last summer (I’d just completed my freshman year of college) I was still unpaid, but wrote a full-fledged feature story for them! This summer they’ve (finally) hired me as a full time staff member because of the dedication and enthusiasm I showed them as an intern. Definitely pays off in my book, even if you have to work crazy hours at a bagel shop or something to make your bills.

    • ashleighvalentina says:

      That’s wonderful, congratulations! And that’s exactly what I did…worked at a bagel shop haha

  2. It seems in my experience in college, which is soon to end, unpaid internships can go both directions. If you are getting the internship just to add to your resume and it isn’t something you are interested in or passionate about; don’t waste your time and theirs. You’re not going to learn anything and you will resent the company because you are not being paid for your time.

    On the other hand, I took a two credit internship this past semester and completely self-designed it. I literally created a job for myself with a local non-profit and decided what I wanted my workload to look like over the course of the semester. This internship is the best thing that I did for myself. But that is the key: I did it myself. Most people do not have that opportunity.

    • ashleighvalentina says:

      I completely agree. It’s vital that you intern for a cause you care about, or else you won’t enjoy the experience whatsoever. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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