If Money Makes the World Go ’Round, What Does an Unpaid Internship Do?

FCLC Students Share Their Opinions About Making The Choice Between Work and Interning


Published: October 21, 2010

In general, students tend to have one of two stories to tell about any internship experience. Either it allowed them to gain the experience needed to build a professional resume or fell into the category of internship horror story. I have had both.

At my current internship, I am given writing and interviewing assignments, which is a great fit with my journalism track. I’m working on a for-credit basis, but the experience makes up for having to eat ramen noodles every other night. But at my last internship at one not-to-be-named fashion magazine, I will never forget running through the streets in heels in 100 degree weather to pick up jewelry worth thousands of dollars…Oh, and with five minutes to get there and the editor buzzing my phone asking why I was taking so long.

And Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) students appear to have shared the pain.

“I started working at a private law firm about halfway into my second semester of sophomore year,” said Jin Lin, FCLC ’12. “The only major accomplishment I took away from that was learning how to scan.”

With the hit-or-miss situation that seems to exist with internships, students have mixed feelings about whether to take a job or unpaid internship. Some believe the benefits of an internship outweigh the lack of pay.

“I prefer unpaid internships,” said Jaclyn Bethany, FCLC ’12. “Of course, if given the choice, everyone would want to be paid for their work, but I feel that the valuable experience you receive from internships will benefit you in the future by earning you a job with better pay. With internships, the compensation comes later on when you’re competing in the job market, whereas jobs are more about immediate payment.”

“I think internships are a necessary part of the college education,” Lin said. “There’s no possible way to graduate from college and find a good job without having done an internship beforehand. And certain internships may even transfer into a full time job!”

On the other hand, others feel that unpaid internships are just a means for companies to exploit students and view them as disposable labor.

“I would rather work because I feel like people just use you as free labor in internships,” said Erica Hatch, FCLC ’12.

“As of right now, I would rather have a part-time job rather than an unpaid internship,” said Heather Houlton, FCLC ’11. “I just think that paid jobs give the employer more incentive to train you and force you to work harder as well.”

Some students even find that working a part-time job unexpectedly opened their minds to other career options.

“I had a job that had nothing to do with my aspiring career in costume design,” said Isabelle Simone, FCLC ’13.  “I used to give ghost tours but it was actually really valuable. It really helped my people skills because I learned how to talk to groups of strangers. It also made me realize that if I don’t end up becoming a costume designer, I would really like to pursue being a tour guide.”

And some students, especially in light of the economic recession, find that an unpaid internship wouldn’t allow them to meet their needs. When it’s a choice between paying for school and many other expenses, these internships are beyond their reach.

“There are some benefits to unpaid internships, and I know since I’m going into photography I could potentially meet people by doing an internship,” Hatch said. “But to be honest, I already have loans out for school and an internship just wouldn’t allow me to pay my expenses or put money away.”

“A lot of people get turned off by internships because they’re usually not paid,” said Kyela Crow, FCLC ’12. “I was thinking of doing multiple internships, but that might not be a possibility for me because I’d like to save up some money as well. You have to begin making a living eventually.”

Also, some students find that there is a lack of internship opportunities that are relevant to their major.

“I think if there were internships available for me, they would be really valuable,” said Annie Labus, FCLC ’11, “but for Classics it’s nearly impossible to get one. The Classics is just such a small field that I’m not aware of any opportunities.”

For students in need of both money and relevant job experience, a paid internship would seem like the perfect solution. But, of course, things are never that simple. Many students have found that paid internships are few and far between, as more and more cash-strapped companies that simply can’t pay interns look to fill for-credit-only positions.

“If anyone knows where to find a paid internship, they really need to show me what I’m doing wrong,” said Sara Ingle, FCLC ’12. “I have read internship posting after internship posting and maybe one in 30 offer some form of monetary compensation. Of course, they are also super-competitive and nearly impossible to get, in my experience.”

“I haven’t yet had an interview for a paid internship in my field,” Simone said. “My father works for a major record company and it doesn’t even offer paid internships anymore. When there are students willing to work for free and corporations needing to make cutbacks, credit-only internships seem to be the norm now.”

In the end, many students feel conflicted about unpaid internships, but seem to agree on one thing: that the good ones provide valuable skills for the future.

“Internships are time-consuming, and working 20 hours a week for no pay can be very challenging, especially when you’re a full-time student and working another job,” said David Wilson, FCLC ’11. “But where else are you going to get that kind of experience?”