Unpaid Internship: Pros and Cons

Unpaid Internship: Pros and Cons

An internship is a short-term job that allows the worker, or intern, to gain introductory experience in a certain profession. 

There are many reasons why students take an internship during high school. While some work to contribute to their family’s finances, others work to save up for college or fund other personal expenses. Many get internships to gain valuable work experience. However, the real prize is getting physical work experience and not sitting on the sidelines.

There can be a lot of variation between internships. They may be part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid, take place over the winter, summer, or during the school year, and last anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more.

So, before you start planning to apply for the internships and stressing about it, you should decide whether or not an unpaid internship is right for you.  

In this article, we take a closer look at the pros and cons of an unpaid internship, and you can determine whether it’s worthwhile for you or not.


Pros of an Unpaid Internship

Let’s face it: Having to work but not getting paid for it doesn’t sound appealing. Given the choice of paid internships or unpaid internships, most students eagerly jump at the first.

In reality, however, many unpaid internships come with amazing perks. Sometimes, these perks even make up for the “not being paid” part.

Below are some known and lesser-known pros of unpaid internships for you.

Valuable experience

The goal of an internship is to earn valuable, business-world experience. You will undoubtedly learn more than you set out to. While you are not getting paid for the internship, it will still give you a chance to see what it is like to work in your chosen field. This is not something that you could get from a textbook or in a classroom. If you make it through the experience – and you will, just like the others – you’ll emerge stronger and wiser for it. And you’ll know you have what it takes to make it through tough times.

You can get college credits

Many internships will compensate for the lack of money with two college credits. If you are through with your credit point system, this may not be very helpful. If you still need college credit, an unpaid internship could be an excellent opportunity. Having extra college credits can make the remaining years of your college experience a bit less stressful.


An internship is an ideal place to network. By connecting with your coworkers, supervisors, and any other contacts you might make while working, you open up many doors of potential opportunity. There is no better way to impress someone than to let them see what you are capable of. Down the line, your boss might be willing to write a recommendation letter or a coworker will be able to put you in touch with companies that are hiring.

Testing the waters

If you think that you are interested in a specific career due to what you learned in school, you could feel completely different when being on the job. When you take an unpaid internship, it gives you a chance to see what it is like to do the job. This will give you a chance to see if you will enjoy working in the field of your choice.


Cons of an Unpaid Internship

While there are some great things about taking an unpaid internship, there are also some drawbacks. Before you make a decision, you should consider the downside of taking these internships.

It’s unpaid

Let’s start with the first and most obvious downside: you don’t get paid. You’ll be putting in a lot of time and hard work into your internship, and having a monetary reward would be nice. Having an unpaid internship also puts additional financial strain on you, since you’re not earning anything to put towards the cost of living or college expenses.

Financial stress

Along with unpaid internships comes stress and a lack of financial experience. Not many students can afford to work for free, even if it is for a brief period due to the extensive student loans they have looming over their heads. If they have no choice but to get an unpaid internship, many take up part-time or even full-time jobs to eke out a living. It can lead to a great deal of stress. Ideally, students should be free to focus on learning and work. 

Narrowed opportunities

Having an unpaid internship on your resume doesn’t always look as good as a paid internship. While the experience of an unpaid internship can help you get a job, it can also hold you back. If it is between you and someone who had a paid internship, the person who was paid will be more likely to get the job. However, if you are unable to secure a paid internship or find one in a field you want to work in then an unpaid internship will still look good on your resume and show that you have some work experience.

Grunt work

It can be tempting for workers to dump all of the tedious, menial tasks onto the intern, especially an unpaid one. You will do lots of meaningful work as an intern, but some of the responsibilities you’ll get will be mind-numbing things below your skill level. It’s just a truth to face.



Is an unpaid internship worth it? That’s entirely up to you. While you get a lot out of an internship besides a paycheck, if money is tight and very important to you, it could be worthwhile to search for other paid internship positions or opt for a part-time job instead. After all, we need money to pay the bills and exposure doesn’t help to put food on our tables. 


Do you want to know more about making the right choice for your college and career?
Book a Free One-on-One consultation with a career expert.

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