Are unpaid internships worth it?

During your internship search, it’s important to understand the differences between a paid and unpaid opportunity. Working for free may not sound like the best way to spend your time. However, there are other benefits that can offset the lack of monetary value and make it worth your while. So before you decline an unpaid internship, consider every aspect of the opportunity. Learn more about how an unpaid internship works and what incentives are available.

Man and woman with documents in an office, smiling, close up

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires for-profit employers to use the “primary beneficiary test” to determine whether an intern or student should be considered an employee. If a student is considered an employee, the student must be paid. Below are the 7 standards for the primary beneficiary test:

  1. The intern must clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.
  2. The internship must provide training that would be similar to that which would be
    given in an educational environment.
  3. The internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated
    coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The internship accommodates the intern’s academic schedule.
  5. The internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides
    the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees
    while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without
    entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

An unpaid internship is in no way, shape, form, or fashion designed to replace an employee. An intern that is unpaid should not be spending  more than twenty percent of their time doing busy work. This includes errands, filing, answering phones, and correspondence among other things. You are protected by law as an unpaid intern so you shouldn’t have to worry about becoming the office errand person. If this does happen, contact your school career office immediately and let them know about your situation.

Benefits of taking on an unpaid internship may include:

  • Academic Credit – This incentive can be offered in paid and unpaid internships. The employer must establish concise learning guidelines that are agreed upon by both the school and the employer. Choosing an internship for academic credit can potentially suit your needs better than learning in a typical classroom setting.
  • Scholarships – There are some organizations that will offer scholarships to students who participate in unpaid internships.
  • Travel Stipend – To make a commute easier for interns, companies may provide traveling expenses. Since many college students are on a fixed budget, unaccounted for public or personal traveling expenses can add up.
  • Benefits – Completing an internship can at times lead to full time employment. Your time as an unpaid intern can turn into benefits that will roll over once you become a full-time employee.

Paid internships may differ from unpaid internships in terms of workload and flexibility. If you are being paid for an internship, you may be treated more like an employee. You are more obligated to do whatever work is assigned to you no matter how tedious and repetitive it may be, unless of course the learning contract you have in place with your school and employer prohibits this.

No matter what internship you choose, don’t disqualify an opportunity based on pay or no pay. Choose the internship that will stimulate your mind, offer you a great learning experience, and potentially lead you to a full-time opportunity after college.

Visit to search for internships in Rhode Island for free!

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Bridge is a program that focuses on connecting employers and students in Rhode Island. The goal of Bridge is to match Rhode Island employers with talented students looking to gain valuable professional experience. Applying knowledge and skills acquired in college to a professional setting is a vital component of a student’s college education. Students who gain relevant internship experience are better prepared for full-time employment after graduation. By hiring interns, employers gain qualified, career-driven young professionals as employees. Student bring with them exposure to cutting edge practices and technology, new insights and philosophies, flexibility and a thirst for knowledge. bRIdge has a particular focus on connecting students and employers from specialized fields such as Business, Science, IT, Technology, Health, Design, Engineering and Manufacturing. The bRIdge website allows employers to post paid or unpaid internships online and directly reach out to a vast and talented pool of students. College students and recent graduates can sign up and start looking for an appropriate professional learning opportunity in minutes. bRIdge is a program of the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (RISLA) and RISLA’s College Planning Center of Rhode Island. RISLA has joined up with Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (AICURI), the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (RIBGHE) and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to bring together academia, business and community. If you have any questions about this program or if you need any assistance, please feel free to contact us.

2 thoughts on “Are unpaid internships worth it?

  1. Some studies have shown that paid internships can be slightly more beneficial to students than unpaid internships, but that may simply be because students getting paid are more invested in their experience. The bottom line is any internship is better than no internship at all – put in the time, get the experience, and knock the socks off of your potentially future employer!

  2. hello sir am nikita..i am a mca student.i have completed my 5th sem exams..just…i want to do internship in .net in ahmednagar..but in this city paid IT’s are totally get confused what can i do..paid or non paid internship..which is more beneficial..plz help me…

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