“Valuable experiences” don’t replace paychecks

Unpaid internships exclude those who cannot afford to work without income and aren’t always valuable in students’ chosen fields.

As an Arts and Science College student, finding paid internships is a bit more difficult than it is for students in Engineering or Business, for example. The argument in support of unpaid internships is usually the fact that you gain valuable experiences in your field of work and sometimes class credit. However, the frustration of working for free is not entirely alleviated.

I have had three unpaid internships. Even though one of these did give me a class credit, I still couldn’t help but worry about both job and salary prospects after graduation. It is hard for employers to make the unpaid intern not feel taken advantage of. Simply put, working for free does not feel good.

When speaking to students at UCLA in 2014, Hillary Clinton linked the abundance of unpaid job positions to a weak economy, which is also contributing to the “youth unemployment crisis.” Young people start out their professional careers at a financial disadvantage. In “Intern Nation,” author Ross Perlin states that unpaid internships further add to wealth inequality. Only those who can afford to live without an income for any amount of time are actually able to accept an unpaid internship.

Those who need to earn an income to support themselves, or other people, fall behind in the job candidate pool. Employers want to hire people with prior job experience, but those with such qualifications could be limited to people who were able to work without pay. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2013 Student Survey revealed that more college graduates who received jobs had previously been paid interns than those who had been unpaid. Internship compensation clearly follows people well past graduation.

I am a media studies major, with minors in international studies and economics. All of these lay in the field of Arts and Sciences. I’ve noticed a trend among my friends and fellow students at TU: those in STEM related majors seemed to have found more success in their search for paid internships.

People may say that I should go out and pursue a major in a STEM field. While this is a valid argument, it is not that simple. My experience in STEM fields have shown me that I am not compatible with jobs that STEM students often receive. STEM fields do not come naturally to me. From a young age, my interests have laid elsewhere. I would prefer not to pursue something about which I am not passionate for the sole purpose of receiving a well-paying job.

But this is not a pity party for me; this is to make a point that opportunities for paid internships need to be extended to students in more areas of study. Unpaid internships give more power to higher-up employees, rendering interns as expendables. Is it accurate to believe that because my passions and aspirations in life are not in STEM fields, I will not be valued enough or in high enough demand as an employee to receive any form of payment for my labor? Because it sure feels that way.

Post Author: Anna Robinson