Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Unpaid internships are the smarter option when choosing between a paid and an unpaid internship. Essentially, the purpose of an internship is to obtain hands-on experience in a work field in which someone is considering a career. Internships serve as introductions to the work field whether it be in the media, medicine, or anything in between. Internships help gain experience and connections in a student’s field of interest. Although it seems like getting paid and gaining work experience simultaneously is beneficial, a paid internship is not always as beneficial as an unpaid one.

Compensation can be a factor considered when deciding whether or not to take an internship. Getting paid for the time invested in an internship may seem like a good idea; however, it all boils down to how much experience will be gained. Internships are supposed to show an intern what it is like to work in a specific field. An effective internship will provide education and teach interns new skills they could not get while sitting in a classroom.

Unpaid internships sound inconvenient to someone who needs to support themselves financially. But people who are truly devoted to their education and succeeding will give up their free time doing something that will enhance their skills. It is hard to work for free, but in the long run the intern benefits from the learning experience. While an unpaid internship doesn’t offer the benefit of getting pay, it is still an experience that will enhance a resume and will be appreciated by future employers. Training in an environment surrounded by professionals gives an intern familiarity with the field and the career path they choose.

Jessica Soto, an undergraduate at Cal State LA, is enrolled in the School of Social Work. Currently she is an intern at a middle school in the Los Angeles Unified School District working with professionals, graduate students, and other undergraduate interns. She claims that her unpaid internship is providing her experience essential to her future career. Working with graduate students, Jessica feels like she can learn more about applying to graduate school. She is practicing her communication skills by providing resources for students and their parents and working with them one-on-one to offer them the best help they can receive. When asked if she would prefer a paid internship that would include running errands and making copies to her unpaid internship, Jessica said, “No. The unpaid internship is providing me with experience that will help me in the future with my career.” She is learning what is it like to help real people with real problems.

Jessica is a hard-working student who has taken advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to her. She is solely interested in furthering her knowledge as a social worker. Through this internship she hopes to better determine how to help her future clients. She knows that in order to gain experience she will have to put in time and effort into her unpaid internship.

Aside from gaining valuable work experience, some internships offer academic credit to their unpaid interns. This allows students to get ahead in their school work while they learn more about the field they will be going into. These types of internships are perfect for those who are worried about graduating in a specific amount of time.

Kate Warren, director of global recruiting services as Devex, explains that some employers only pay their interns in order to feel less guilty about assigning them tasks like getting coffee and making copies. Paying an intern to do useless tasks that don’t teach them anything defeats the purpose of an internship. Not all employers will take advantage of their interns by making them go on coffee runs, but for the ones that do, the U.S. Department of Labor has set conditions for those employers who choose not to pay their interns. According to these conditions, the internship must benefit the intern, the intern must work under supervision, the employer should not get immediate advantage from the work the intern does, the intern isn’t entitled to a job at the end of the internship or to wages for the time invested. Under these conditions, the employers of unpaid interns cannot treat interns unfairly. Under these conditions, an unpaid intern cannot be asked to do tasks that would not improve his or her knowledge or would not better their skills.

Internships allow students to get a feel for a potential career path they will take. They allow students to really think about their future career and whether or not they are going to enjoy the work they will be doing. An unpaid internship isn’t free labor but an investment of time to better understand the way a specific work field functions.