University of Oregon

Unpaid Internships: Pro or Con?

Jennifer A

November 11, 2011 - 4:36 PM

College students can not just graduate with a degree anymore. We need to have work experience before we can have work. (I know, seems a little like the ‘chicken or the egg' argument.) Ok, I'll drink the kool-aid and participate in this. The spring of my junior year I was on the hunt for an internship. Being like most college students, I needed to make money during the summer to support myself. My search for a suitable internship was not as easy and enriching as I thought it would be.


I read about so many great internships that near the end would just write in small print that it was unpaid. The amount of work most internships require are at least 30 hours a week. The internships were not mindless paper-pushing either. It was real work that would affect the bottom line of companies. I ended up not pursuing many of these non-paid ones because of principle. (And yeah, money.) I am a hard working, young professional training for a successful career. I deserve better then to work for free when the Barista down the hall makes $9.00 an hour. Fortunately, I got an internship with a great company who paid well.


At my internship I was integrated straight into a team where we worked on social media and internal communications. I had my own cubicle, computer and worked 40 + hours a week. I asked why they paid their interns so well and their response was "You guys work hard, you deserve it. Also, it is illegal not to pay you." I was shocked! How is that possible? There are so many companies committing crimes then. Really, the only way a company can take on a unpaid intern is if they are only participating in a learning environment, like a class. They cannot help the company in any way an employee might. Basically, if you are actually doing something you need to be paid for your time.


Whenever any younger student in my school asks me about unpaid internships I make sure they understand it is illegal. Yes, you may gain valuable experience but you will be used. As an intern, you can offer talents and abilities that deserve to be recognized, appreciated, and paid for.

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