Paid vs. Unpaid Internships: Should We Work for Free?

Paid vs. Unpaid Internships: Should We Work for Free?

Written by Cassidy Scott, account executive for PRSA Oregon. 

Finding the perfect internship commonly concerns the modern college student. However, what happens when the seemingly perfect internship is unpaid? Should students raise their quality of work to a higher bar and only take paid internships, or should they take the experience with no compensation? It is a tricky decision.

Firstly, there is no doubt there is merit to an unpaid internship, as any experience outside the classroom is helpful to the rising professional. After all, the idea of unpaid work, or apprenticeship, in return for valuable experience is an age-old custom.

But this is no longer the Middle Ages, of course. Perhaps the biggest drawback to a modern unpaid internship is the high cost of living as a student or recent graduate. These days, it is impossible to have an unpaid position while paying tuition, rent and buying groceries. With this in mind, unpaid internships seem almost out of the question. Furthermore, on a professional level for a public relations intern, there is a lot of time and creative effort that goes into all the tasks that PR professionals must complete, such as social media posts, press releases, infographics. To not receive pay for this effort can be tiring and unfair.

But this begs the question: is the value of the experience, the bolstered resume and portfolio still worth it? In many situations—yes. If the internship is part-time while you are in school, working another job at the same time or maybe you are living at home and not paying rent, an unpaid internship can still be worth the time. Unpaid internships can also be used for academic credit and be useful in that regard.

Ultimately, it is important to accept unpaid internships that are respectful of you and your talents and genuinely want the best for you as an up-and-coming professional. Some companies may be unable to pay their interns, but if you decide to accept an unpaid internship you should feel respected as a valuable asset to the team.

In the end, the decision to do an unpaid internship is a personal one. The best thing to do is weigh the pros and cons, consider your personal financial status and most of all, go with what feels right.

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