Paid Internship vs. Unpaid Internship

Paid Internship vs. Unpaid Internship

Internships differ from organization to organization and can be of varying lengths. Think of internships in the light of a period of hands-on industry experience in a chosen career path. The intern, in exchange, adds value to the organization by helping them meet their goals and objectives. Of course, internships are open to both local and international students who wish to have prior experience before graduation. Having a clearer picture of what your career entails and its work environment makes it easier to test if you are in the right field or not. The time frame for internship ranges from a summer, semester to a full year. There are many types of internships open to students. However, for the purpose of this article, more focus will be on paid and unpaid internships.

I bet you would probably choose a paid internship over an unpaid internship. It is pretty obvious because one comes with a form of compensation. Everyone (almost) probably has an idea of the pros and cons of paid vs. unpaid internship. Before you completely reject unpaid internships, there is more than meets the eye. In this article, you will be exposed to in-depth knowledge about all there is to know about internships; both paid and unpaid.

There are benefits you may enjoy if you decide on unpaid internships and accompanying disadvantages. However, there are ways you can overcome some of the challenges that unpaid internships pose and I will be right here to give you tips. So, get your note pads ready and flow with me!

Paid internship

As the name implies, paid internships provide financial compensation benefits to interns for performing their duties. This pay varies by industry and functions. Some organizations offer benefits like free housing, relocation bonus as well as other fringe benefits in addition to basic pay. With paid internships, you don’t have to look for a second job for the purpose of making ends meet. Wouldn’t we all love that?!

Paid internships are much common in the private sector and large organizations having the financial capacity to pay students who wish to learn. However, the application process is much more challenging and there is more competition to get hired. Given a choice between paid and unpaid, many students prefer paid internships for the benefits it offers.

Benefits of paid internship

More and more organizations are hopping aboard the train of paid internships because they realize the value that these students could bring to the table. It is more sustainable for interns to do a paid internship to cover their needs especially if the location is far from home or school. Paid internships have so many benefits, some of which are discussed below.

Financial compensation

The provision of financial compensation is a great motivation for interns to put in their best. This is why paid internships are often the most desirable. While financial compensations may not be the sole reason for an internship, it is a high consideration. This is because there is an increased incentive to motivate them to work harder. Interns focus on the job at hand because they face lesser financial burdens. They are not distracted by second jobs which their counterparts in unpaid internships may undertake to cover their basic needs. This provides firms with capable hands upon graduation for conversion to full-time employees, if they so desire.

Increased competitive advantage

A company offering paid internships will have a lot of options to select from. The best of the best candidates apply for paid internships first before considering unpaid internships. Interns who get selected will be acquainted with the core values and culture of the business. Because they are motivated to give in their best, they often come out shining after the internship programs. This naturally puts them ahead of the competition when the organization is considering who to hire. Of course, we know that no company will want to incur additional training costs for a new employee when there is a capable person who has already interned and is familiar with the activities of the business.

Experience in your chosen career path

Working as an intern gives you the flexibility to be involved in a variety of projects and tasks. This makes work interesting and educative. I doubt companies will want to spend their money paying an intern to engage in manual jobs like filing, getting coffee, etc. This means that you spend time doing important tasks that keep you on track in your career path. The exposure to different people in various departments helps you make decisions on the areas in your career you would want to specialize in.

Resume building

Think of your resume as your ticket into a concert hall. Without it, you wouldn’t be allowed entrance. Most companies request for your resume when advertising for vacancies to know your skill-set and competencies. Through paid internships, you will have developed the skill sets that are relevant to the industry of your choice. Paid internships can expose you to the nitty-gritty of the work in your chosen career. You will agree with me that this experience will sure look good on your resume!

Creates equal opportunities for interns

With paid internships, employers give interns equal opportunities to learn, unlike unpaid internships. This levels the playing field for students that cannot afford to accept unpaid internships because of its financial burden. With paid internships, your inability to afford to work without pay does not become a barrier to acquiring industry experience in your chosen field.

Disadvantages of paid internships

Sometimes, financial compensation isn’t enough to keep interns fulfilled. Sometimes, paid internships may be dressed in attractive packaging with empty content. Paid internships may not fulfill your expectations with regards to advancement in your chosen career path. Paid interns are exposed to the diverse nature of tasks which can be abused by employers. Rather than an attractive learning package, interns may be subjected to menial and unwanted jobs. On the plus side, you get paid for the job, unlike an unpaid internship. However, recommendations are suggested to address this as you read further.

It is no surprise to know that applications are usually more than the internship positions available. The application increases with paid internships which are desirable to a lot of students. With this fierce competition, getting selected out of so many applications can be challenging. Some paid internships come with certain requirements with regards college major, grade point average, course of study, level of college, etc. before consideration. This can be quite disadvantageous for those who cannot meet with these requirements.

Seeing a paycheck regularly reaffirms that you are a paid intern. However, some other persons you interact with may see you as a regular employee. This expectation may bring about complaints about your service. A customer that complained about a service failure to you is expecting results and doesn’t want to know it is your off-day. When this happens, they may complain to management about the service quality delivered because they do not see you at your desk every day. Some others who know you’re an intern may not trust you or see you as skilled enough to handle their challenges and deliver on time. The same also goes for co-workers and these differences in service expectations can affect your performance and overall experience.

When there is payment on the table, employers often have unrealistic expectations from interns. There is increased pressure for them to perform and meet up with deadlines and objectives on their assumption of duty. They often forget that the intern may not have had previous experience, thus, the intern is left without adequate guidance and supervision. This does more harm than good and negatively affects the overall experience an intern may have. However, recommendations are suggested to address this as you read further.

As a paid intern, there is a possibility that you may miss out on college academic credit as some schools only provide it for unpaid interns. You can obtain more information about academic credits from your institution and the requirements for obtaining one, if available.

Unpaid internship

Students often take advantage of any available opportunity to advance their career. Thus, they spend their summer pursuing internships, even those that do not offer payments. Sometimes, you may be interested in a particular skill that may be impossible to learn if it is a paid internship. Whatever the reason, unpaid internships are becoming quite popular.

What value does an unpaid internship bring?

I bet you are wondering if unpaid internships are worth it. Read on and you just might change your mind.

Opportunity to gain experience

One advantage of an unpaid internship is that it affords one the opportunity to gain industry experience. Personally, I think this is the biggest advantage. While it may not grow your bank account, the knowledge gained isn’t something you’ll ever lose. This experience could be of immeasurable value in your chosen field of study, deeper than classroom knowledge. You get to experience firsthand what it feels like doing the job and the everyday challenges that come with it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do an unpaid internship rather than sitting idle at home? With unpaid internships, you are engaged in activities that will advance you in your chosen career.

Possible college credits

Some universities offer college credits depending on your program of study and funding available. Often times, unpaid internships come with provision for college credit points. However, you should find out if your school offers it or not. The credit may not compensate you for the non-payment but it has its importance and can boost your credits. By earning college credits, the overall credit hours required for graduation reduces, thus, making the remaining college years less stressful. If this is available, you are indirectly getting paid (just not with money!)

Creating networks and forging connections

While it may be frustrating to work without pay, unpaid internships can bring you in touch with experts in your chosen field. Putting 100% of your efforts and working hard will make them impressed. This can lead to a lot of opportunities for you upon graduation. Connections do pay and a strong network of industry giants can get you places your degree won’t. So, ignore the disappointment that is sure to come when your colleagues are landing paid internships and focus on the positives. While you may not get pay checks, remember that everyone you meet has the potential to help you land a job upon graduation.

Additional perks and benefits

Although you may not get financially compensated, there are added perks and benefits that could be offered by employers. Some offer incentives like free food, medical cover, transport and travel expenses, etc. Some offer reward systems for outstanding work and exceptional performance. Sometimes, your employers could provide free training on certifications which are expensive to acquire. Others may include access to audio and video tutorials and right to interact with leading pacesetters in your field of study. Not many companies will hire an unpaid intern to work without arranging for some form of compensation though.

Drawbacks to Unpaid internship

The obvious disadvantage of an unpaid internship is the financial burden it imposes on the intern. Finance is a major concern of students and they prefer to look for paid employment to offset school bills and other needs. An unpaid internship may also require you to move out of your neighborhood, which has cost implications. Recommendations are made to address the issue of internship funding to reduce the financial burdens of unpaid interns.

An unpaid internship is not common in all sectors of the economy. The highest number of unpaid internships is in the non-profit and public sector. Some companies in the private sector may not be willing to add an additional member to the payroll without pay to avoid regulatory and legal sanctions. These companies may not wish to be sanctioned for failing compliance tests of some labor laws.

Imagine how frustrating and demoralizing it will be to discover that there is no guarantee that you will be made a staff especially after doing an unpaid internship! I bet you wouldn’t be considering the benefits if there is no guarantee of a job. While exceptions may be made when the intern has done exemplary work and is result-oriented, there really is no guarantee. So, you need to be prepared for this eventuality.

When you are an unpaid intern, you won’t be regarded as a staff, and this will influence communication with you. Sadly, some interns may be turned into menial workers and assigned tasks that have nothing to do with their career. This is why it is important to conduct research before saying “yes” to an internship. It is important to read reviews and learn more about the culture of the company. If there is no opportunity for you to learn and grow on the job, it doesn’t make sense to take an unpaid internship. If you would do menial jobs, at least be paid for it.


Some recommendations are suggested to address most of the challenges discussed above, regarding both paid and unpaid internships. The problem of lack of fulfillment can be addressed by discussing with your employer and department supervisors. Communicate with them, ask questions and properly understand your work description before you fully assume. You need to also know the goals and objectives of the firm and ensure that they are in line with what you are looking for.

The problem of high expectations on the part of employers can be addressed by asking management on clear training programs and supervisory lines. Communicate the need for robust training to enable you to carry out your job functions effectively. Ensure this is discussed and fixed before you resume duties at the organization.

With regards to funding for unpaid internships, some colleges assist their students. Make research to know if your university offers scholarship opportunities to cover internship funding. For example, Drexel University pays a bulk percentage of the internship fees of their students. I’m pretty sure they are not the only ones. Schools are jumping at the opportunity to help students get industry experience before graduation. Of course, this offers schools good publicity for impacting their students’ lives positively. This ultimately means that non-financial payments should not stop you from acquiring experience that can put you ahead of the competition.

On the issue of college credits, it is important to discuss with your academic counselor to know the requirements for obtaining one. You need to be sure you are eligible to obtain one. For example, Arizona State University offers college credits to students engaging in either paid or unpaid internships. Some other schools offer based on a program of study, etc.


Paid Internship vs. Unpaid internship tries to compare the two, with respect to benefits and disadvantages. Few people will choose an unpaid where there is an offer for a paid internship. Paid internships offer financial compensation, increased competitive advantage, experience in your chosen career path, builds your resume and creates equal opportunities for interns. Some disadvantages of the paid internship include lack of fulfillment, high requirements due to the competitive nature of applications, the difference in service expectations, unrealistic expectation of employers, and reduced access to college credits.

While unpaid internships may not offer financial compensations, they give interns the opportunity to gain experience; possible college credits creates networks and connections and offers additional perks and benefits. Some drawbacks include increased financial burden, no guarantee of a job upon graduation, and the possibility of doing menial jobs.

Recommendations were made to address financial burdens faced by unpaid interns, college credit and the problems of high expectations and lack of fulfillment. Phew!! I believe by now you should have a proper understanding of what paid and unpaid internship is all about. The benefits and disadvantages are inexhaustive and you can carry out more research to discover more.


Every student dreams of landing the perfect job upon graduation. You need the experience that internships afford in order to be a competitive candidate for your dream job. There are many types of internship and compensation doesn’t have to be the sole consideration.

Other key considerations include; duties and functions, course credit availability, working hours, professional and personal improvement, convenience, etc. Of course, you should find paid internships when possible, but be realistic and look for alternatives if paid internships are not forthcoming. It is best not to waste your summer doing nothing when there is a possibility of learning through an unpaid internship.

If you decide to go for unpaid internships, it is important to ask questions with regards to job descriptions, work responsibilities and the availability of other forms of remuneration. An internship is very important for your career and personal development. While an unpaid internship may not offer money, it may give you added benefits that are worth it. Weigh the pros and cons against each one and select the one that offers the most benefit to you. However, if you do land a paid internship, you should grab it tightly with both hands.

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