Unpaid Internships Offer Valuable Experiences

The topic of internship compensation is heavily debated, especially among many college students who are constantly wondering whether it’s worth it to accept an unpaid internship.

The unfortunate reality is that this discussion is not as simple as it seems, as there are many factors that go into whether or not internships are paid.

One factor that plays a role is the type of industry being considered. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE,) there are generally more resources available to pay interns in government and business departments compared to non-profit organizations.

Students who are looking to work in an industry that typically doesn’t pay their interns, such as non-profit organizations, may have to comprise money in order to do what interests them.

For example, Tess Cimino, a senior at Marist College, has interned for non-profits and numerous other companies in New York City and California. Her internships have been both paid and non-paid.

“I was interested in sustainability and the nonprofit world so there wasn’t a lot of money in those industries, but I met a bunch of people and started doing some side paid jobs that really helped me survive while in NYC,” explained Cimino.

As Cimino mentioned, an advantage of non-paid internships is the connections that come from it. Along with that, unpaid internships offer great opportunities for students to learn as much as they can in their field of study.

Similarly, Eleni Nickolas, a junior at Marist College, worked for a startup company called Thread International last summer as an unpaid intern. Trough this internship, she was able to build connections and land a paid internship for this summer at American Eagle Outfitters.


Eleni Nicholas, promoting Thread International’s new backpack in the Pittsburgh office.

Nickolas spoke positively of her experience, saying “I learned more than I could have imagined at Thread.”

Research done by NACE shows that “students who participated in multiple internships had higher odds of being employed relative to seeking employment six months after graduation compared to those with no internships.” Therefore, when applying to jobs, what’s most important is how much experience the student has had through their internships.

Stephanie Graham, the Internship Program Coordinator at the Center for Career Services at Marist College, believes that all internships are great resume builders, regardless of whether or not they provide compensation.

“Paid or Unpaid, internships allow students to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to a hands-on practical experience”

On the other hand, it is true that not all students can afford to take an unpaid internship. Data from NACE shows that wealthier students have a higher probability of completing an unpaid internship than students with moderate or high financial need.

One option that many students decide to do while completing an unpaid internship is working another job on the side so that they are still making an income. For Cimino and Nickolas, they chose to do unpaid internships that really interested them, while also working hard in their off time to earn money.

“I think if you have the chance to do an unpaid internship then go for it. Being able to is really a privilege and most people like myself have to be working another paid job on the side, but if it is really what you love then you will make it work” said Cimino. 

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Tess Cimino, a senior at Marist College, who is teaching in Malaysia after graduation through the Full Bright program. 

Most students suffer financially through college and for a number of years after. Unfortunately, working hard and taking that unpaid internship may just be the sacrifice that students need to make in order to be successful later on in their career.

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