Unpaid internships: experience gold mines or slave labor? Let me break it down for you. Many students face the dilemma of taking an unpaid internship over a paying job and frankly we shouldn’t have to.

As I have had an internship, I understand the basic duties of an intern. You will probably schedule meetings, and maybe fetch coffee, but you will also be doing work for the company. As an intern I joined in and collaborated with the employees and did gain valuable experience and industry knowledge, yet I was unpaid.

Let me rephrase: I was helping employees and working on my own projects, given to me by a supervisor, yet they did not pay me. I am in no way saying that I should have been paid as much as a regular employee, because that would be ridiculous . I am, however, saying I feel I should have been compensated to some degree for the hard work I was putting in; even paying for my transportation costs would have been acceptable.

Let’s take a break from the paid versus unpaid intern discussion and focus on college costs. Obviously at Fairfield, we get a great education, but at what cost? Tuition at Fairfield University for this semester comes in at almost $54,000, which doesn’t include books or other costs. And we aren’t even the most expensive option out there! Other schools, such as Sarah Lawrence, cost more than $60,000 dollars.

What I’m trying to express here is that college is expensive, and to pay for it we need money. Yet we can’t get money without a job. People will not hire you for a job unless you have experience, and of course to get experience you need an internship. However, many people cannot afford to pass up an entire summer’s wages simply to get experience at an unpaid internship, but without this internship experience, they may be passed over for additional jobs or internships down the line.

I do see the other side of this, that unpaid internships show “who really wants to be there” and that interns aren’t working with the skillset that full-time employees have. Interns will be doing work that the company profits from, so it doesn’t need to pay interns as much as an employee, but at least pay them minimum wage (preferably higher, please).

Unfortunately, the rat race will continue for internships, so a few words of advice to my fellow college students:

Apply. Apply early, and often. If you land a coveted paid internship, accept it and revel in your good fortune. If you are facing the decision of a summer job versus unpaid internship, try and do both. Ask your supervisor if you can have a flexible schedule, where maybe you can work one day a week.

Lastly, if you are just accepting an unpaid internship, talk with your employer and explain the situation. They might be willing to cover some of the costs you incur from commuting, or be willing to give you a small stipend. Some money is better than no money, and you’ll never know unless you ask.

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