Unpaid Internships: Pros and Cons

Unpaid Internships: Pros and Cons

What are Internships?

Internships are short term work experiences that allow a student to gain industry experience relevant to their current education. Internships are considered to be a very important part of a student’s career. They are the bridge between the protective walls of the school and big bad world outside, as they give the student a taste of how their bookish knowledge really applies to real-life situations. Many professional courses require the students to mandatorily gain such an internship experience before getting a job or starting off on their own, such as medicine, law, teaching, engineering, architecture and so on.

Types of Internships

Depending on the course and the profession, there are different types of internships offered to the students. They vary in intensity, duration, and work style. The opportunities to intern with companies also come in varied fashion; while some opportunities are advertised, some other opportunities are gained via networking and contact, and lastly, some internships are ad hoc decisions taken by the employer.

Many companies also offer a small amount of money as a part of the internship contract. However, it is important to understand that the main objective of an internship is not to earn money, but experience.

Unpaid Internships: Do or Don’t?

A common argument to support an unpaid internship would be that if the focus is more on the experience, then why bother with asking for money in return for the effort invested. But the truth is that whether an intern should be paid or not depends on the nature of the work assigned to them during the internship. More often than not, any work performed by the intern warrants a minimum wage, if not as much as a full-time employee.

An intern should be paid like an employee if:

  • The work done by the intern would usually be done by a fully paid employee
  • The amount of time spent in the organization is significantly long like an employment
  • The employer is more benefited with the arrangement than the intern.

Unpaid internships seem to be a product of many students’ desperation for experience. Many times, the work demanded by the company is pretty menial and not very relevant to the intern’s subject and knowledge, and yet the intern performs the tasks for the experience certificates. In worst cases, this work borderlines on modern slavery and yet the interns do not raise a voice against it for the fear of being blacklisted.

In many industries, such as media and fashion, there have been many instances of unpaid internships with no guarantee of full time jobs in the future, merely for the fact that there aren’t enough jobs in the industries.

Law or not, for students, it only makes more sense to apply for a paid internship where the work and efforts are recognized – both monetarily and otherwise. This is because, other than the experience of applying the theoretical knowledge, the experience of being paid and the understanding of the salary trends in the industry are important for the intern as well. This helps the intern set a pace for their future career. There is statistical proof that unpaid interns are more likely to end up with low paying jobs and being undervalued, thus having a scarring effect on their long term career.


Unpaid internships are more likely to have a scarring effect on the student’s self-esteem, consequently affecting their long term careers.