Unpaid and Paid Internships

When looking at internship options, you’ll quickly notice a huge difference between them – some internships are paid and some are not. It might seem like an easy choice at first. Of course, you want a paid internship. It isn’t always easily cut and dry though. At times, unpaid internships are best for students.

Key concepts of an internship drawn by hand
  • Networking: When you need to get a job after graduation, the more people you know the better. If you can take an internship that has you working with really influential people in your field of study, consider it instead of a paid option.
  • Educational Opportunities: You should take an internship that really lets you sink your teeth into the job. Not getting paid is easy to overlook if you’re allowed to take on responsibilities and learn a lot about your field. That’s better than being a paid coffee boy/girl.
  • Advancement Options: It is always better to take an unpaid internship where you will be likely offered a paying job later than to take a paid internship that is, basically, a dead end.
  • Flexibility: Going to school full-time and doing an internship can be draining. If you find an option with flexible hours and people who want to work with your schedule, that might be a better option than a demanding paid internship.
  • Interest: Internships come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t take a job you aren’t going to like just for the money. College is the time to experiment with fun career choices, even if you aren’t getting paid. Take an internship you want, not one that will be soul-sucking just to fill your wallet.

The good news is that there are tons of paid options available, so many times you can find an internship that meets the five above criteria and pays you. Internships, however, don’t usually pay in the same way that regular jobs pay. Remember, this isn’t just a job – it is also an educational experience. Employers will be training you instead of just throwing you into a task and letting you figure out how to do it. They’re mentors as much as bosses, and are willing to help you learn from your mistakes, not just fire you for making them!

Internships that are paid can be a set salary, an hourly rate, or a stipend. More often than not, you’ll find that these pay rates are all fairly low for your industry and area. Don’t worry – you’re an intern and your responsibilities will follow your pay rate closely.

Of course, keep in mind that no employer should exploit you using an “internship” as a guise to get free labor. You should be learning, working toward goals, and being increasingly trusted with tasks. If you feel someone is taking advantages of you, contact your school’s internship advisor.

Internships for College Credit

Along with pay, one of the main things you can get out of an internship is college credit. Often, you must be a senior or junior to be considered an internship candidate, but at some colleges and in some majors, even younger students can apply.

Always seek college credit for an internship if you can – it will save you time and money in the long run.

To find a college internship for credit toward graduation, start by talking to the head of your department. At some colleges, each department has its own internship coordinator. At other colleges, there is a specific office to help students get interns, regardless of major. Either way, the head of your department or your academic advisor can point you in the right direction. It should go without saying that there are several great college internship job boards that shouldn’t be missed either – such as the one we’ve linked to.

Usually, you get about one credit for each hour (per week) of class you take. So, if you have a two-hour chemistry class every week, you’ll likely get four credits total for that semester. However, when it comes to an internship, the one hour to one credit ration doesn’t always apply. With classes, curriculum creators assume that you’re spending at least one hour on homework and studying for every hour you spend in the classroom. Internships typically don’t include homework or studying. So, you’ll find instead that you get one credit for every 1 to 5 hours you spend working as an intern every week. Every college has their own rules.

To get college credit, you have to usually go through a process, starting with paperwork from you and your internship employer. At your college, whoever is in charge of internships for your major will find out what you need to fill out to start the process. Usually, your internship employer needs to fill out some paperwork, promising to perform certain duties, like performance reviews or hour documentation. Sometimes there are even stricter rules about internship credits. Not all employers are willing to deal with these rules.

You might have to do certain things over the duration of your internship. You may have to keep a journal, check in with your academic advisor, write reports, or attend occasional seminars. Many times, you have to do a presentation at the end of your internship, and sometimes you have to take a final test or write a reaction paper.

In some cases, colleges do not offer credit for internships. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take an internship. You can still get valuable experience from an internship, even if your college doesn’t recognize that. At the end of the day, prospective employers don’t care if you got credit for an internship or not.

Sign up for our newsletter!