Unpaid internships offer valuable experience

By Meghan Smith
April 10, 2008

Internships are a key ingredient to any college student’s resume yet have one major downfall; the lack of a paycheck. In many fields-politics, broadcast, journalism and nonprofit-unpaid internships are not only the norm, but the rule.

When it comes to the decision if an internship is paid or unpaid, it is left strictly to the organization.

“Many offer wonderful experiences but can’t offer an hourly wage,” Nancy Hutchison, director of co-op and career services, said. The money is simply in some companies’ budget and not in others’.

In place of a paycheck, the majority of internships are taken for college credits. “Most companies always require the student receive academic credit for their work. They tend to feel at least the student is getting a value-added experience,” Hutchison said.

Michele Canavan, a junior biology major, will be interning at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital this summer. “I’m getting to work at a really good hospital. It’s a great experience and really good to put on applications for grad school. Penn is such a highly respected name that I don’t mind not getting paid,” Canavan said.

According to national surveys conducted by Vault-one of the most trusted names in recruitment-half of internships nationwide are paid, yet those in the most competitive fields such as politics, television and film, are unpaid.

In an effort to help students who take unpaid internships, numerous colleges have begun making small stipends or fellowship money available to them. Cabrini asks the company itself if they are able to give a little something extra.

“I always try to see if they will give at least $20 a week, for gas, lunch, things like that. I always push for a little something, and the company is usually always willing to help,” Hutchison said.

About 80 percent of graduating college seniors have done a paid or unpaid internship, according to surveys by Vault, compared with about 60 percent a decade ago.

The value of doing an internship, paid or unpaid, is extremely high. Fifty-five percent of graduating Cabrini seniors who are employed in co-ops or internships during the spring semester of their senior year are offered full-time employment with their current employers, according to Hutchison.

“It’s an honor to work with someone who has such an amazing track record,” Joe Johnson, junior double major in history and political science, said of his unpaid internship with Congressman Joe Sestak. “The networking you are able to do and the people you meet make it such a rewarding experience.”

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Meghan Smith

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