Internships can prove to be valuable for college students, especially for those who may not have had much prior work experience or exposure to their field of interest. They are a great way for students or recent graduates to distinguish themselves from their peers and gain references and contacts. However, not all internships are created equal, and there are some things you should know before you sign up for the summer.
Choose Your Internship Carefully
Let’s be honest. You’re not going to get much out of a summer spent fetching coffee and making photo-copies. A valuable internship should offer you meaningful work experience and training. You should be able to interact with people who can mentor you and provide some insight into the job field. The internship may or may not turn into a job, but it should prepare you for the field by giving you a real learning experience.
In order for an unpaid internship to be legal, it must be educational to the intern and serve as training. Even better if you can get academic credit in exchange for the work you’re doing. Internships are not slave labor! Don’t feel that you have to commit to an internship “just because”. If you find yourself in an internship that is not worth it, you can leave! In fact, there’s evidence that unpaid internships are not worth it, and you may be better off not interning at all.
Beware the Unpaid Internship
A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that only 37% of graduates who had completed an unpaid internship and applied for a job in 2013 got an offer. This is only slightly more than those with no internship whatsoever, 35.2% of which were able to get a job offer.
Those who landed paid internships did much better. 63.1% of those graduates received at least one job offer in 2013. Those who had completed a paid internship also had higher median starting salaries: $51,930 as opposed to the unpaid interns $35,721. Those with no internship experience actually did better when it came to starting salaries, getting a median of $37,087.
Unpaid internships are only really available to those who can afford to go without working. This means they are often filled by students who are already well-off and do not need to spend the summer earning money to pay for textbooks. Paid internships are generally much more competitive, which may be part of the reason they end up being more profitable to the graduate in the long-term.
The Good News
60% of potential employers state they are more likely to hire graduates who had completed an internship. Some lucky students are eventually hired by the company they interned for.
Although there are still plenty of opportunities to intern for free, many companies are doing away with unpaid internships in favor of paid. Unpaid internships have to follow strict legal guidelines, and some interns have sued companies for taking advantage of their position. The safest option for businesses is to offer just payment for work. Offering payment also means they are more likely to get the best candidate for the position, and that students will take the internship more seriously.
There are many reasons for students to pursue an internship, but they should be chosen wisely. If you can’t afford to take an unpaid or low-paying internship, you don’t have to worry too much. Work experience is also beneficial to finding future employment, especially if the job that is relevant to your desired career field.
Photo Credit: By The White House Press Office, in the Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. The White House Internship is an unpaid internship.