Unpaid Internships: A Growing Business


While undergraduate interns begin to wrap up their Summer job experiences, many other internships will proceed uninterrupted due to the increasing number of graduates who began their careers in positions once reserved primarily for college juniors.  Internships have become the proving ground for individuals seeking full-time, entry-level positions. 

This phenomenon has made an internship harder to land for everyone.  Since hands-on experience is required for most entry-level positions, many have given up on finding paid internships and now target relevant unpaid positions. 

Gerry Shih, a paid summer intern at The New York Times, wrote about this growing tend in yesterday’s newspaper.  Gerry’s article notes that internship desperation has led many to pay for help in getting an unpaid internship. 

The University of Dreams received more than 9,000 internship applications this year, up 30% over last year.  The guaranteed-placement internships include eight weeks of housing, five meals a week, seminars and tours around New York City for $7,999 and significantly higher for European cities, according to Shih.

While the University of Dreams is the leading for-profit enterprise, many other clearing- house services exist, including USAIntern and Internship.com.

Before paying for internship assistance, you should try your best to land a job through traditional avenues.  I am impressed with InternSearch.com, a national directory of internships that is free to students and universities.  Many universities also provide career services such as intern placement.  Three that have been mentioned by Culpwrit readers are at Syracuse University, Miami University and Princeton.  The Princeton site provides an excellent tutorial on how to find internship opportunities. 

Also check out nonprofit services such as The Washington Center, Idealist.org and NASPAA’s Public Service internship placement program which help individuals find internships in government and NGOs. 

5 thoughts on “Unpaid Internships: A Growing Business

  1. Yeah this is quite an interesting trend. Personally I was talking with a representative from University of Dreams for a month because I wanted to spend the summer in San Francisco, but the whole idea of giving them money to do something I could do for myself, in Cleveland, eventually nixed that option. I really hope other students will use InternSearch.com, or an organization listing like PRSSA’s JobCenter to find an internship, instead of taking the easy way out and shelling out cash for one. Really you gain so much more from the experience of the search.

    Great post!

  2. In the UK, whilst searching for internships I found that very few were actually paid placements. If the internship is longer (perhaps 3-6 months) then the company might pay you a minimum wage but nothing compared to an AAE – which is relatively the same skill-set. Although this is considered illegal, it seems to be the common method used by agencies.

  3. What a timely and relevant post. While in San Diego visiting a friend, I met a young woman who participated in the University of Dreams program. She had nothing good to say about it, except the price was kind of high. BUT, she did her internship in New York, so paying around $8,000 for the internship, housing and meals was an easier route to take for her.

    A guaranteed internship may be nice, but I think it’s much more rewarding to go after an internship that you really want and getting through the doors the more “traditional” way.

  4. I would also submit to anyone who is willing to do an unpaid internship in your own home town to reach out to their favorite non-profit or organization and offer your skills and expertise.

    Many of them are in dire need of the creativity, energy and enthusiasm an intern could bring to their organizations, but don’t even have the time or resources to develop an internship program.

    Right after graduation, I approached the Chief Development Officer at Hispanic Unity of Florida and told her how I could help them fund raise using social media. Next thing I know they created a new internship position just for me – PR/Marketing Coordinator.

    Paying to get an internship may be an option if you have a lot of financial resources, but remember that you can add value (plus get the experience you need) to many people in your own community for FREE.

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