Unpaid Internships Cost – And Benefit – DU Students

Junior Marielle Mohs leaves her apartment to head to her internship, paying job, and then class.

DU junior and biology major Tink James has had a few jobs.  She’s worked retail, nannied, and scooped ice cream. She’s got a 4.0 GPA, loves animals, and considers herself very outgoing. What might surprise you is that James spent her most recent summer stuffing envelopes at her internship. For free.

As many colleges work harder to adjust their curriculum to the changing business world and economy, students are finding internship credit more and more valuable to their work experience, and graduation requirements. Concurrently, as the economy dwindles, paid internships are fewer and far between.

But regardless of monetary reimbursement, college students are finding these internships indispensable.

“There’s just no real chance of you landing a solid job after college without some internship experience,” said junior journalism major Elle Mohs. “Everyone wants someone with some real world experience.”

Lindsey Wimberg, a junior international studies major agrees experience is the best way to learn.

“When you’re learning to speak a language, immersion is sometimes the most educational. I think the same thing can be said of working in your field,” she said.

Working for free?

What many college students are on the fence about is the fact that colleges charge students tuition for this off-campus experience. While legal, some schools, students, and companies debate if it is ethical to charge a student to work.

“It’s always frustrating to work and not get paid back,” said James. “But you’re getting credit towards graduation, so you it makes sense that you should have to pay for it.”

Other students disagree.

“I’m doing the work and my boss is doing the teaching- why should anyone get money except me?” said Wimberg.

Real Life Benefits

Whether right or wrong, unpaid internships are a major part of student life, although some seem to have major benefits over others.

“Mentorship makes a huge difference when it come to an internship,” said senior business student Mahlia Gauld. “Sometimes the work is far more valuable to the company.”

Mohs agreed. “The difference seems to be if you’re doing slave work, or actually helping the company progress.”

But not all internships are created equally.

“I had a lot of down time with very little instruction at my last internship,” said James. “I literally had to pester my boss to give me tasks because she was too busy to instruct me.”

Students agree that there’s a possibility that your time is wasted, but often just adding to the resume helps with career progression. But if you land a bad internship where little is gained, should credit still be given – and charged for?

“Experience can but maybe won’t equal to what you get in the classroom,” said Wimberg. “There should be a system for evaluating internships so the credit hours are received on a level playing field. “

Economy Shifts Internship Opportunities Available

The major difference between current internships and internships of the past is the lacking resource of funds. Many companies who used to pay their interns or provide them with a stipend can no longer afford to, and since experience is often considered invaluable, interns continue to pour in.

“I think the economy definitely has an effect on it,” said Mohs. “People used to say ‘don’t work for free, you’re worth more than that’ but now its come to a point where that’s bad advice to follow, even if your parents followed it.”

For students trying to pay for college, this isn’t great news. Although internships usually provide between 4-6 credits at DU, students are at the office far more than 6 hours a week, which leaves very little time to work a paying job on campus or at a nearby business.

Junior Tink James applies for internships online.

“If I had to be working for money AND working at my internship?” James wondered aloud. “Well, I’d be screwed.” Still, James babysits for pocket money up to three nights a week, and volunteers at Swedish Hospital– the closest most biology students get to an internship because of tough rules on what’s acceptable. “EMT training for 20 hours a week doesn’t even count at DU.”

Networking: The Wave of the Future

So are internships the only way to make sure you’re hirable? DU students think internships are helpful but not necessarily the only way.

“Networking is pretty much the best way to land an interview,” said Mohs.

Gauld agrees. “Connections make such a difference now. You might not work at your dad’s company, but often people land jobs at a company of one of your parents’ friends.”

The Right Track for Your Career

Regardless of paychecks or college credit, DU students seem to find that college internships are their most important resource in finding a job.

Mohs recently realized this when she worked alongside a 25-year-old college graduate at her internship this summer. “She told me that I was smart to start working young,” Mohs remembers. “She had no internships in college, so she’s paying her dues now.”

One Response to Unpaid Internships Cost – And Benefit – DU Students

  • ktanita
    ktanita says:

    This was so organized and relevant to college life. It was refreshing to see both points of view especially because there is often not a right and wrong answer. It was helpful to read this information because I know what to expect and what to know when I start looking for future internships. I liked that you incorporated interviews with students from all different majors because internships are relevant to every career.

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