5 reasons why you should NEVER take an unpaid internship

We Intern Tech
Dec 31, 2018 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post

The purpose of an internship is to better prepare students for the working world. They serve as a way for students to apply what they have been learning in school to the real world and give them real hands-on experience.

The problem is that these days students are told that if they do not leave university with some kind of internship experience, then they will be failures in their career. Companies exploit this by providing unpaid internships to students. Students that feel they do not have any other choice take these internships and many times leave them worse off in one way or another.

In this article, we’ll list five reasons why you shouldn’t take that unpaid internship offer, even if it is your only choice. You’re better off getting something else, anything else, that will pay you for your time.

1. You will be taken advantage of

Companies that offer unpaid internships advertise them as opportunities for students to gain valuable experience. This is at no risk to them, as they are not willing to spend the money to invest in potential future employees. Since there is no real investment in the intern, the type of work that is assigned to the interns is normally very menial, and doesn’t provide any kind of educational value at all.

Unpaid internships normally embody the stereotypical internship duties: grabbing coffee, cold calling, etc.

Meanwhile, the companies that choose to pay their interns recognize what they are doing as an investment in their potential future staff. As a result, interns at these companies are given work that has a lot of educational value and actually has an impact.

2. Don’t fall into the school credit trap

Many unpaid internships offer school credit as a form of payment. What many students don’t realize is that those credits are not free. In order to get them to count toward your degree, you have to signup for a class that allows you to get credit for that internship. That class costs the same amount of money as any other class with the same number of credits offered at your university. Depending on where you go, that could be anywhere from $800 — $1500.

If you are taking an unpaid internship in exchange for school credit, then essentially you are paying to have a job.

Some fields require internship experience in order to get a degree. However, this does not mean that settling for an unpaid internship in exchange for school credit is a good idea. You are spending enough money on school already as it is. There is no reason why you should spend your summer working for a company in exchange for college credits that you will have to pay for at some point anyway.

When given the option to work for pay or school credit, always choose the former. Many schools that require internship experience to graduate also offer internships through the school for credit which is a far better option.

3. Know how much you are worth

Many students feel that they don’t have the experience to be paid, and so they are willing to work for free. Companies exploit this insecurity by providing unpaid internships. As long as students are willing to work for free unpaid internships will continue to be offered.

Your time is worth more than the experience that you will get from an unpaid internship. The time that you give to a company that isn’t willing to pay you can be used to improve yourself in some other way, or even just relax.

If you think that you don’t have the experience to be paid then just remember that there are people out there being paid for jobs that require much less skill.

Never assume that you don’t deserve to be paid, your time is valuable and should not be wasted working for anything.

4. You’re better off just doing your own personal projects

If you find yourself unable to find an internship that will pay you, then you are better off picking a personal project related to your field and working on that all summer. Not only will that help you to gain more experience, but it will also show that you take initiative and have a deeper passion for your field.

With a personal project, you get to choose what you will work on, you get to set the hours that you work on it, and you get to see something through from start to finish. If the finished product is useful to other people, you might even be able to sell it and make some money.

No matter what field you are in, if you have to choose between taking an unpaid internship and doing something related to your field on your own, don’t take the internship. You will get much more value and satisfaction out of doing your own project.

5. You probably won’t get a paid offer later

A big reason why students take unpaid internships in the hope that it will lead to a full-time offer when the internship is completed. This does not always happen though. Companies are by no means obligated to hire their interns when they complete their internships. In fact, it even says it in the employment agreement that the company is not required to offer their interns a full-time position at the end of the internship.

Even if they do, the starting pay will be horrible because if someone was willing to work for free, then any kind of pay after that will be better than nothing.

It is very tempting to take any internship opportunity that comes your way. Before you decide to take that unpaid internship, think whether it is really worth it. The good majority of the time it is not worth your time and effort.

If you have the choice between working for free and doing anything else, then just do anything else. Even if that means relaxing for a summer. You could probably use a bit of a break anyway.

If you are currently looking for paid internships in your area check out We Intern Tech (https://weintern.tech). We are a job board that helps students find internships in technology. New paid internships are posted every day, or you can signup for our mailing list to get the internships in your mailbox weekly.


Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store