Do unpaid internships
From the symphony to the local
newspaper office to Capitol Hill, thousands of students and recent grads work
for free, hoping that an internship will lead to a dream career.
Euan Blair, son of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is working as an unpaid
intern in the U.S. Senate, according to news reports.
you're from a famous family or not, in politics, human rights, journalism or the
arts, unpaid internships are sometimes the only way to get crucial experience.
few companies try to sweeten the zero-bucks deal with free airline tickets, subway
passes, books and occasionally tuition help, former interns say. But if you're
trying to make the rent and pay back loans at the same time, or if you're funding
your own way through school, a subway pass or a pile of free books won't help
The key question is: Does the unpaid-internship
gamble pay off?
pay or no way
"In the nonprofit world, it's
expected and understood that you're not going to get a paid internship,"
says Megan Freismuth, a recent college graduate and former intern who grew up
pretty much every summer as an undergrad, and those were unpaid," Freismuth
says. "I lived at home and also worked a part-time job. It wasn't hard at
all. But after college, I moved out to Boston, specifically to intern for Physicians
for Human Rights. That got a little tougher.
one point, I was swinging three jobs while interning," Freismuth says. "The
cost of living in Boston is so much higher than anything in Indianapolis."
not easy for the financially strapped to get a start in a world where unpaid internships
"I think it is difficult,
though not impossible, for people who are not at least of middle-class
income to enter this field," says Heddy Nam, who works for
a nongovernmental organization in New York City called Network 20/20,
which educates leaders about foreign policy.
"If you're from a working-class
family, this isn't even a possibility," Nam says. "Many
of my middle-class friends say that it's difficult for parents to
pull off because they are already paying the huge cost of college."
class? It's a factor in the workplace
"There definitely is a range of economic backgrounds with people
I have worked with," says Nam. "However, most people are
from middle- or upper-class families.
"To begin with, everyone in
my field is college-educated and has previously held unpaid internship
positions. It is rare that a person from a lower-class family will
have had these opportunities.
"So if you think about it
that way, yes, the field is almost elitist, because while local
grassroots organizations do hire people with a high school diploma
and a demonstrated interest in their work, bigger international
NGOs will never go for that."
But counselors argue
that the advantages outweigh the sacrifices.
"If the student is saying,
'Gee, it's not paid, should I do it at all,' they should really
look at the potential contacts," says Julie Pickering, the
director of Career Services at the College of Engineering and Applied
Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a vice president
of the Cooperative Education and Internship Association.
pay obviously would be nice, but if students can set themselves up to be successful
in the future, those networking contacts are the big payoff. Networking is still
the best way to find a job."
suggests thinking flexibly instead of assuming you'll have to work both days and
nights in order to get a start in your field, as she once did.
at the possibility of a part-time unpaid internship so you're not giving up the
whole 40 hours. It's almost like a modern job-share for students because it's
so important to have that related experience when you interview."
Might turn into full-time work
Though interns and
their supervisors emphasized that the point of an internship is not to score a
job at that particular organization, anecdotal evidence suggests that it happens
sometimes, if not often.