Should You Accept an Unpaid Internship?
Internships for high school and college students come in many forms, and not all internships pay students for their work. In fact, unpaid internships have been in the news in recent years due to former unpaid interns suing the companies they interned for. As a result, some companies now offer at least minimum wage to interns, but others still offer unpaid opportunities.
So is it a good idea to accept an unpaid internship? Here’s a look at the questions you should ask the employer and yourself before accepting an unpaid internship experience.
What work will I be doing?
Of course, getting a paid internship is the preferred route to go, but in lieu of a paid opportunity, an unpaid internship may still benefit you or help you get your foot in the door.
Ask your future intern supervisor what work you’ll actually be doing. Are you going to be answering phones, making copies and getting coffee? Or are you going to be gaining actual work experience specific to your field of interest? If it’s the former, you may be better off getting a paid part-time job. If you’ll be gaining actual work experience related to your major, it might be worth going for it—especially if you’re still early in your college career.
In addition, the Department of Labor released a fact sheet about what qualifies for a legal, unpaid internship in 2010. Review the requirements to see if the unpaid internship you’re thinking of accepting meets the requirements.
Is academic credit given?
Some companies offer unpaid internships in exchange for college credit. Typically, this means you’ll need to have your college approve the internship and then your internship supervisor (and you) will be required to fill out and submit paperwork and performance reviews throughout the internship. Check with your college first to verify whether you can receive credit for an unpaid internship.
What hours will I be required to work?
An unpaid internship that requires you to put in 40 hours a week won’t leave you much time to secure a paid part-time job to earn money to pay for college. Meanwhile, a 20-hour-per-week internship could afford you the best of both worlds—a chance to gain important experience and the time available to do part-time, paid work for a different company.
How much will it cost me?
If your unpaid internship is in your hometown, you could keep your living expenses down by living at home. If, however, your unpaid internship is in a different city than your college or your family, you may end up shelling out big bucks for rent, transportation to and from the city, parking or public transit, and more. Add up what you’ll be spending and decide if it makes financial sense for your situation.