The Great Debate: Paid vs. Unpaid Internships

“Internship” is probably one of the words you hear the most as the winter semester ends and your friends prepare for their summers. Internships are a great resume builder, help you get real experience in your field, and can make getting a full-time position after school much easier. (Also—not for nothing are internships great TikTok fodder. Just think of all the “Day in the Life” vids you can harvest—if ur into that kinda thing.)

But, there is plenty of controversy around internships. The biggest debate circles around paid versus unpaid internships. In this post, we’ll go through what internships can do for you, then compare how paid and unpaid internships work for students.

Why Internships?

The job market is increasingly competitive as hiring pools have gotten bigger with remote work. While a degree is the first qualifying step for many jobs, most companies want proof that you can apply what you’ve learned in a real-life setting. Internships offer that proof of experience. 

That experience isn’t just good for getting hired after graduation, either. It’s an excellent, low-stakes opportunity for you to test out the field to ensure it’s what you want to pursue! (You know—try before you buy.)

Internships are also a great introduction to building a network. Over 80% of jobs are found through mutual connections—only 1 in 5 people get a job with no connections, even if they are fully qualified. Internships can put you in touch with the right people.

Paid Internships

Paid internships are often the goal of any college student, and understandably so. You’re working, so you want to get paid for your time and effort. But there are some hidden benefits to paid internships that you may not have known.

Interns from paid positions are almost twice as likely to be hired after the internship than unpaid interns. A National Association of College and Employers (NACE) report showed that students in a paid internship have a 65% chance of being hired as full-time employees afterward. 

Paid internships are more likely to give quality training. Some studies have shown that paid internships involve much better training than unpaid internships.

Allow you to spend more time with the internship. Of course, having a paid internship allows you to cover your financial needs. That means you can put more hours in with the internship since you are less likely to need to work a separate job.

Paid internships typically offer more than unpaid internships– but there can be hidden catches.

You may not be able to find one in your field. Paid internships aren’t as common, so some college students get a paid internship in another field. Building up unrelated experience to your degree or dreams can put you on a completely different career path.

Paid internships may require some work experience already. The point of internships is often to open the door to entry-level experience. But, paid internships can require a resume or other related experience already since it’s more like getting hired for a job.

Unpaid Internships

The practice of offering unpaid internships is getting more and more controversial. It’s essential to understand a few basics covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the standards of NACE.

When you consider an unpaid internship, make sure of the following:

  • The employer makes it very clear that it is not a paid internship.
  • You are not replacing a paid role but are there to be supervised by fully staffed, fully compensated employees.  
  • There is a defined end date to the internship. 
  • You have a clear job description with duties listed before accepting the position. 
  • You know if you will be receiving other compensation, like college credit.

But, it’s not all bad news for unpaid internships. 

Easier to find in your field. Unpaid internships can be more common and make getting experience related to your field easier. 

Less performance pressure. Because they’re unpaid, you may have more flexibility in hours and less responsibility. 

College credit may offer value in place of payment. Although payment is ideal, some companies may be able to provide college credit instead. This can still be a valuable trade for your work.

Trying to keep track of your finances while balancing college? Then follow the Kora Blog for more financial tips, tricks, and trends.


References:

CONSIDERING A PAID INTERSHIP | HANDSHAKE

PAID VS UNPAID INTERNSHIPS | CAPITAL PLACEMENT

IMPACT OF UNPAID INTERSHIPS | INVESTOPEDIA

PAID INTERNS MORE LIKELY TO GET HIRED | USNEWS

HOW MANY JOBS ARE FOUND THRU NETWORKING, RLLY? | PAYSCALE

POSITION STATEMENT: U.S. INTERNSHIPS | NACE