When it comes to unpaid internships, we hear the same things over and over: “Unpaid internships are crucial for college students,” “Don’t expect to get paid while gaining experience” and “You will probably do unpaid internships all throughout college and maybe a little after graduation.”
On the surface, unpaid internships make sense. The experience and the résumé material is the compensation. Plus, we don’t have much professional experience yet, so who knows what value we’ll be able to add to a company.
However, after the first day of my first unpaid internship freshman year, it didn’t take me long to take a step back and view unpaid internships for what they really are. No matter which way employers and professionals try to cut it, the reality is you are doing work for free. In most cases, the value you add to the company by being an intern does not equal the compensation you receive in return.
I understand this is basically the essence of capitalism; maximize profit by receiving labor for as cheap as possible (in this case, free). But if capitalism has the right to screw me over, then I have the right to channel my inner Karl Marx and complain about it.
From a business standpoint, it’s actually genius. Convince a bunch of young, naive college kids this is sort of a rite of passage into the working world and they have to be compliant, and they’ll do it whether they like it or not.
These companies could pay us. They just choose not to.
Despite how bitter I sound, I’ve actually had some good experiences with unpaid internships. I have received good experience while being able to hold down other jobs, and that experience has paid off for me. But it doesn’t work out that way for everyone.
Many times, unpaid interns end up doing tasks that aren’t related to their field — menial and even degrading tasks that don’t get acknowledged or appreciated. Which would be fine … IF WE GOT PAID FOR IT.
Some internships also require students relocate. So you have to find a place to live, find transportation to and from your internship and get adjusted to a place you probably aren’t used to. You end up actually paying for your “experience.”
For some kids, it’s worth it. But for other poor college kids like me, it forces us to make a decision between gaining experience that’ll hopefully pay off in the long-run and going into debt for the near future.
This brings me to another point: an unpaid internship does not guarantee you a job or even a paid internship.
I’m not saying you should avoid unpaid internships. They are a necessary evil, and you might fall behind if you don’t force yourself to suck it up and do it. But I do think that this is a national issue that needs to be discussed more in the context of worker-employer relations.
To the employers who do pay interns, thank you. To the employers who don’t, stop acting like the interns are the ones who receive the most benefit from the employment. Because that’s not the case. We aren’t working for you out of the kindness of our hearts. Pay us.