Unpaid internships: privilege in disguise

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.

College is a time for new experiences. You learn a lot about yourself and who you want to become. In the professional realm, internships can help you ascend the corporate ladder, learn new skills and work within a team environment. Internships have even become required for graduation in some fields because they emphasize traits and skills like communication, teamwork and time management.

However, there are some that abuse the work and vigor of interns, minimizing their work to servants or assistants. Where interns are to learn skills applicable to a job, some companies refuse to let them learn these skills, or even worse, refuse to pay them for their work. For all the hard work interns do, there must be more opportunities to compensate them.

Every single college student loathes unpaid internships. The thought of working long hours with high expectations for something that will take up two lines of your resume is tedious and nerve-wracking. Add on the fact that you won’t be earning any money and it becomes unbearable.

Luckily, some are able to live without funding for a few months. For those, the answer seems pretty clear: stop complaining and just get through the few months you’ll be interning.

For others though, this just cannot be a reality. There are some students who need to have a consistent income. Whether they need to help their family or pay their way through college, they simply need to earn money. So when they encounter an unpaid internship, one that could possibly be the breakthrough for their career in whichever field, they just can’t take it.

And let’s not ignore the fact that it can actually cost money to be an intern.

Not every single student has the ability to intern on campus. There simply aren’t enough positions available. So they work in the surrounding areas like  Baltimore, Ellicott City and Columbia. If they drive, gas costs about $30 for a 10-gallon tank, which has to be filled up every two weeks and, over the course of 16 weeks, you’ve already spent $240. Then calculate in money for lunch and possibly dinner, new professional clothes, parking, and it could easily add up to a thousand dollars over the three to five-month span, maybe even more.

Low-income households suffer the most in this way. “But they get scholarships! Financial aid!” the people cry. Sure, but only if their student excels in school, if they have some unnatural talent, if they go above and beyond every other person vying for the exact same money. But oftentimes this is not the case. And sadly, many have to turn down the internship they need for jobs they don’t want.

College tuition hikes get worse each year. Going to schools and taking out loans the size of mortgages seems like a daunting task at the forefront. It seems circular to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars each year to learn the skills one needs to get an internship. Once their careers begin, they hope to use that knowledge to earn enough to repay all of the debt they accrued while trying to get into it. 

It is hard enough for students from less privileged backgrounds to make it into a university at all. Along with that, now they also have to spend more time working jobs and then have less time for things like extracurriculars and unpaid internships. Unpaid internships unfairly affect those from lower-income backgrounds. Those who cannot afford to live off of nothing are essentially barred from that experience. And since many careers require internships, which are most likely unpaid, those students are stuck and cannot move forward in their field. 

Just pay your interns. They work hard and deal with enough as it is.