Should I accept an unpaid internship?

Posted: October 23, 2010 in Money & Finances
Tags: ,

As companies’ budgets tighten, an increasing number of organizations are offering unpaid internships to college students.   There’s no easy answer to the question of if you should accept an unpaid internship, but what we can offer is a few more questions to consider:

  • What are other interns in your field making? Do a bit of market research and see what other interns in your major are earning.  Most large engineering companies and accounting firms will issue their interns a stipend, while an internship in marketing may come with a project for your portfolio but no paycheck.
  • Learning Experience or Free Labor? Take a look at the job description and associated responsibilities.  Is the company asking you to file papers or are they offering you the chance to work on a specific project with a talented team of professionals?    Familiarize yourself with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the recent updates to Regulations for Unpaid Internships.
  • How much “intangible” value are you getting from the internship? Networking, Potential mentors, experience for your resume, the ability to put your coursework into practice…it’s hard to put a number value on these benefits, but you can try.   Calculate what you would make working a full or part time job during the same time period.  Say you could make $3500 working for the summer…. Is the internship worth more?
  • Can you change your budget accordingly? Drip coffee instead of lattes anyone?   There are a lot of places where we can make cuts.  An incredible internship opportunity might just be the reason to adopt a more budget conscious lifestyle.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, what is the long term benefit to your internship experience and how does that compare to your short term requirement for cash?

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