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Unpaid internships still worth the time

Wittren is a senior magazines major and can be reached at laura.wittren@drake.edu

This summer, I was a social media intern at a wheatgrass company in California. I desperately wanted an internship in California, and I was excited to land this one, even though wheatgrass doesn’t at all catch my interest.

The internship was advertised as paid on the website, but I was too shy to ask my boss about the details. Maybe it was my humble Midwestern upbringing, or maybe it was my aversion to uncomfortable situations. Regardless, it took me a few weeks after moving to California to finally talk to my boss about payments. His response? “This is an unpaid position.”

Those are some of the worst words to hear or see when applying for an internship, but trust me, it was a million times worse having already been there for a few weeks. I pointed out that the website said it was paid, but he said that must have been a mistake. I mentioned that I had rent and bills to pay.  “Our other interns have trust funds that are helping them with that,” he said.

Sorry that I don’t have multi-millionaire for parents.

Why is it so hard to find a paid internship? As a senior magazine major, I am on my third internship. How many of those have been paid? Only one, which is my current internship, but don’t get too excited for me. It’s only a stipend at the end.

Word of advice: If you ever hold a position that is compensated in stipend, and you want to hold any shred of happiness about the stipend, do not calculate how much you make per hour based on it. Nobody gave me that advice. I currently work for $2 an hour.

How is this even legal? That’s not even half of minimum wage. These companies have got to have an extra $7.50 an hour tucked away somewhere for us interns. When I talked to my boss about it this summer, his go-to response was “Well, it’s an internship. You get paid in experience.” Why does experience have to come at the cost of being completely broke?

But, when I think about it, internships, paid or unpaid, provide beneficial experience. I would not be confident enough to graduate in three months without these experiences. The me before my internships would never have held its own in the workforce.

Last week, I was on an internship panel held by the magazine program. After some other students who held unpaid internships over the summer and I talked about the experience a little bit, professor Jeff Inman asked us a question: “Was it worth it?”

Despite my unpaid woes and the discouragement of having hardly any money in my bank account, I immediately said “yes.” Through being on the panel and writing this opinion piece, I learned that nothing would make me regret any of the internships I have held — not even money.

Would I have liked to make some extra cash? Duh, of course I would have. But the fact that I didn’t earn a cent didn’t lessen my dedication or the experience I gained. Maybe one day the norm for internships will be to be paid. But until that day, I have no regrets.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Chatham October 4, 2012

    What’s worse than an unpaid internship?

    The internship PLUS paying Rutgers University for a 3 credit “Internship class” that does not meet.

    Nice money when you can steal it, I guess.

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