Will work for free

Are unpaid internships okay?

Internships have long been essential components of education. Although internships give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the fields of their choice and gain first-hand knowledge and skills, more and more frequently companies are unable to pay them. Instead, they employ people who can receive college credit in lieu of any monetary compensation — a practice that has raised ethical dilemmas among academics.

“These days, everybody works for free,” said Ann Choi, a first-year journalism graduate student. Choi has had two internship experiences – one as an undergraduate at Texas Student Media and one this semester at Texas Monthly. Only her latest internship was paid. “Both were beneficial but in different ways,” Choi said. “Because I was getting paid [at Texas Monthly], I felt a lot more responsible.”

Tara Iagulli, director of career services at the School of Information and former senior career advisor at the College of Natural Sciences, has heard similar feedback from students after internships. “Students report feeling more legitimate in a paid internship,” Iagulli said. “But there are some students in unpaid internships that just rave about their experience.”

Iagulli also said the likelihood of a student’s internship being paid depends on the field he or she has chosen. She indicated students with a majors like mathematics or accounting are usually paid, whereas students studying liberal arts are not. “Sometimes the more artistic [positions] don’t pay,” she said, “It’s more accepted in the industry.”

But are students okay with not getting paid? Mary Kang, a UT graduate who had a video production internship in the fall 2011, said that while she gained experience in her position, she believes a paid internship would have been much more ideal. “At the time I got what I needed — the school credit — but, looking back, I think a paid internship would have been better,” Kang said. “I didn’t have a horrible time, but some of my friends in unpaid internships felt like they were being used.”

According to Iagulli, the best way for students to ensure a good experience, regardless of whether they'll be paid or not, is to choose their employers carefully and look for those who are likely to practice good ethics when it comes to their interns. As for the lack of paid internships in some fields, many students are accepting the situation are hopeful for change. “I can’t complain, but I can wish and hope that they’ll see it as a worthy cause,” Choi said. 

Internship Tips 
provided by Tara Iagulli, director of career services at the UT School of Information

1. Start with your university. Look on your college’s career board, Hire a Longhorn and Access UT for positions. This is not only the easiest way to find internships, but it also maximizes your chances of finding a useful, legitimate one.

2. Identify organizations you would like to work for. Contact them and ask them about internship positions.

3. Find a mentor to help. Your college’s career center has advisors who can help you with the internship process.

4. Write a good cover letter and polish your resume. Internship positions are competitive, and you need the materials you submit to stand out from the other applicants’.

5. Take it — all of it — seriously. Dedicate your time and effort from finding a position to your last day of work.

6. Prepare for your interview. Often employers will ask you tough questions that can be alarming if you haven’t prepared.

7. Maintain formality and professionalism. Even if you’re just writing an email, make sure you’re not being too casual.

8. Take ownership of your experience. Make an appointment to speak with your supervisor, and explain to them what you’re hoping to gain from your internship. Often employers are willing to work with you to ensure you have a good experience, but you have to speak up first.

9. Show up early and stay late. A lot of students think having “flex time” means they can arrive at work whenever they want to, but your boss will notice and might assume you’re not committed to the position.

10. Always aim to make your boss look good.