Internships have become a right of passage into the professional world for college students across the globe. Finding the right one, in the right location, at a company that feels right is enough of a process for already stressed to the max college students. While internships have become a staple, those that are unpaid internships are often the source of heated debate; an unpaid internship keeps those who can't afford to work for free out in the cold, and potentially opens the door for employers to abuse their power. So why in the world would we, students, take them?
For me, not only did I take an unpaid internship this summer but I moved across the country to do so. I paid to take this opportunity, literally. So why? I am the first to acknowledge the many downsides of these positions but for this summer the benefits far outweighed the costs. Not only am I getting once-in-a-lifetime experience that I could not have found in my hometown or in the midwest as a whole, I'm getting this pseudo study abroad experience, I'm getting contacts with major players in my field and being introduced to their network or colleagues as well. There are definitely cases where the work being put in by interns is far beyond the [lack of] payment they receive. While I was looking for internship positions this summer I was hesitant to take another unpaid one, I would have preferred something with an intern budget - but when someone I look up to immensely told me point blank that this was an opportunity I couldn't miss I took the cost for the benefit and packed my bags.
There have been examples of instances when there has been an abuse of power, including the 2015 case where unpaid interns filed a lawsuit with Universal Music Group. This is not a case unlike any other, in fact the precedent of cases like this are not new in the least. More often than not students avoid these types of internships, costs outweighing benefits and that's a fair decision to make. The reality is that they do alienate individuals who cannot afford to take an unpaid position. They do open the door for an abuse of power from the professionals involved and for an unfulfilling experience for the students. I've seen both sides of this and it was a large factor in my choice for this summer. While I plan on looking only for paid internships this coming year, I've learned one thing in particular that is my sole piece of advice for anyone taking on an unpaid one: ask and you shall receive. Any position is what you make of it and when you're unpaid it can often become even more your responsibility to ask for what you need. Don't be afraid to do so!
My unpaid internship has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life... so basically:
Airfare: $300+ dollars
Housing: I don't even want to talk about it
Subway Cost: Probably $200 for the summer
Grocery Expenses: $50 a week
Work Experience: Priceless