Unpaid internships: waste of time or will they pay off?

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Why Should I Care?

Many departments require students to complete an internship before graduation.

Employers look for graduates who have completed at least one internship.

Even an unpaid internship will provide valuable skills and networking opportunities.

Hannah Riedy had plans to pursue a laboratory internship this summer. She wanted the experience but needs the money more.

“I wasn’t going to be able to make enough with the internship stipend to pay for rent (next fall),” said Riedy, a sophomore medical technology major.

The internship she found offered $5,000 for expenses.

“Depending on how frugal you are, you can only come out with a certain amount,” Riedy said.

Internships often cost students more money than what they earn from them, especially if the internship is unpaid. One credit hour costs $425 for an Ohio resident student and $787 for an out-of-state resident, according to the Bursar’s Office website. For an internship worth three credits, a student must pay $1,275 to $2,361 before other expenses.

And in today’s job market, most employers favor applicants who have one or more internships, said Robin Pijor, Career Services assistant director.

“Whether it’s paid or unpaid, we have to focus on what’s the reason for doing it,” Pijor said. “It can give the student practical and meaningful experience. The end goal is to put things on the resume so when the employer is looking at the resume, it stands out.”

Pijor said an internship “helps students solidify a career path. Sometimes we have to find out what we don’t like to do before we know what we like to do.”

Nancy Stanforth, associate professor in the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising, said internships also provide students the opportunity to gain confidence and make connections.

“You get to network with a lot of people you wouldn’t get to meet any other way,” she said.

Stanforth said about half of fashion internships are unpaid.

“New York is notorious for being unpaid, but (students) get to work for famous labels,” Stanforth said. “It’s always a trade-off. Some of the really fabulous experiences have been unpaid and other places that pay treat them so well.”

Tyeasha Clarke, junior fashion merchandising major, applied for an unpaid summer internship with a clothing company. She said she will utilize scholarships and get a weekend job during the internship to cover the costs.

“With a major like mine, there’s so much you can do with it,” Clarke said. “So you have to do internships to figure out what you want to do.”

Cleveland Magazine offers unpaid college internships, which senior editor Erick Trickey said is common in the magazine industry.

“We have a small editorial budget,” Trickey said. “We cannot afford to pay interns.”

Trickey said a Cleveland Magazine internship does offer the student a chance to improve writing skills and gain business experience.

“Interns become more accurate writers and reporters by being fact-checkers,” he said. They gain experience as reporters and work with editors.

Paid internships, however, turn into jobs more often than unpaid ones, Stanforth said.

“I think the people who invest in interns and spend time training them are looking to hire them,” she said. “That’s a wonderful gift, to not have to look for a job after you graduate.”

Pijor said internships should compensate students because they often still have to pay for traveling and living expenses and other bills.

“There are, in my opinion, too many unpaid (internships),” Pijor said. “I would love it if we could do away with all unpaid internships, (though) they can still be really great learning experiences for students, certainly.”

Pijor said if a student is only able to find unpaid internships, he or she is not utilizing all the available resources.

“There are lots and lots of paid internships,” she said. “Faculty members can be great resources. (Students) can come in to the office and talk to a career officer.”

Riedy said although she won’t do a summer internship, she will complete a year of clinical work required for her program.

“I felt that it was better to work throughout the summer,” she said. “My clinical begins my junior year, which is like an internship.”

Pijor said the “bottom line” is students must show some sort of experience on their resume.

“The employers are really looking to see the student has done some type of experience while taking classes,” Pijor said. “Even if a person’s program does not require an internship, it’s a really good idea for them to still do one.”

Contact Kelli Fitzpatrick at [email protected].