Internships 101

Paid vs. Unpaid Internships: How to Decide

Choosing between a paid and unpaid internship may seem like a no-brainer, but there are several factors you should consider when making the decision. From your financial circumstances to the type of experience you’re looking to gain, finding the right internship should take into account both your current situation and your future goals.

Before we dive into the full list of things that may affect your decision, let’s cover the basics. What’s the difference between a paid internship and an unpaid one? The answer seems pretty simple: money. But it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Unpaid internships need to meet stricter standards than paid ones and are more likely to be eligible for college credit. They are a great way to gain valuable hands-on experience that can be hard to come by in school. Unpaid internships can also help you land a job and grow your professional network. To find out more about credit requirements for your school and see how an internship meets your financial and professional goals, set up a meeting with your advisor.

And if you’re ready to take a more in-depth look at other factors, we’ve come up with a list of questions to help you narrow down your options.

1. What do you need to get out of the internship?

If you really need a summer job that pays, your focus should be on either a paid internship or a non-internship opportunity. But if you have the resources to support yourself (or are able to get another job in addition to your internship) an unpaid internship may offer some perks that a paid one doesn’t. For example, many small companies don’t have the budgets to pay interns, but sometimes they can offer a lot more hands-on experience than larger companies.

The key is to find out what opportunities the company is able to provide and to make the most of them. Maybe you can set up weekly meetings with the leadership team or one-on-one mentoring with a senior manager. Companies want interns who are motivated and enthusiastic, and they’re usually excited to work with you to provide the kind of experience you want.

2. Which type of internship will be most helpful to your career path?

If you’re nearing the end of your time in college, chances are you’ve already had an internship (or two) and you’re probably ready to take the next step towards your post-college career. In a recent survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers noted that 65.4% of seniors who have paid internships on their resumes are more likely to get a job offer prior to graduation. If you want a paid internship but haven’t found any options, we’ve got several paid internships that might be right for you.

On the other hand, if you’re a freshman or sophomore and are looking to gain experience in a specific field, you may consider unpaid internships that give you the chance to develop certain skills and build your resume. The good news: You’re more likely to land a paid internship with an unpaid internship under your belt.

3. Is there a possible future with the company?

One of the best things about internships (both paid and unpaid) is that they can lead to a full-time job with a company. In fact, the promise of landing a full-time job is one of the main reasons why students consider unpaid internships in the first place. The best way to find out if the company you’re considering interning with has a history of hiring interns is to ask directly. And if a company does frequently hire interns, they’ll usually tell you that during your interview.

Choosing an internship is one of the most important decisions you can make during your time in college, and having as much information as possible will help you pick the right one. The key is to know what you want and work with potential employers to find the best fit. And if you want more advice, don’t be afraid to reach out to former interns or employees who are alums of your school. They’ll have the inside scoop on the companies you’re considering and be able to tell you what they got out of the experience.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Dress for a Job Interview at a Bank and find answers to common interview questions such as What Gets You Up in the Morning?