Building a Case for Unpaid Internship


As a parent who had the ability to help support sons in unpaid summer internships, I know the value of of such experiences, although I don’t like the concept.  Unpaid internships favor those who can afford to work for free, while eliminating talented individuals who need to earn money for college expenses and life. 

I feel most organizations, even nonprofits, should pay something in return for the work performed by summer interns.  However, I’m fighting a losing battle, and I realize unpaid internships can provide experience and networking contacts that will lead to future employment.  I’ve seen it happen with two sons whose unpaid internships led to full-time jobs in professions they love. 

Before agreeing to underwrite unpaid internships, I asked myself similar questions that appear in an entertaining father/son column by Steve and Isaac Yoder in the Wall Street Journal.  Isaac wants a Washington, D.C. summer internship just like my older son did, and his father is pondering nine important questions that you should be prepared to answer before seeking unpaid internship support from mom and dad.  

Unpaid internship support from parents must address Steve Yoder’s “thought loop” consisting of the following questions:

  • Can we pay for it?
  • Can we afford it?
  • Did I get subsidies like this?
  • Is this a worthwhile endeavor?
  • Would it be equitable?
  • Can Isaac afford to pay for this summer plan?
  • Might Isaac actually benefit if I declined to pay?
  • Where, exactly, should parental dole stop?
  • Will I feel stingy if I say no?

Last year, this blog wrote about the disturbing trend of purchased internships.  That idea requires an even stronger business case or very rich parents. 

One thought on “Building a Case for Unpaid Internship

  1. Your sons are very lucky!

    When I was struggling to find an internship, I found that the problem was not necessarily the income I would have lost by not working that summer but the cost of paying rent on the apt in my college town while paying rent on a place where I would do my internship, costs of living in the internship city, costs for travelling to the internship site (very costly if abroad), etc.

    You hit the nail on the head, though. Talented students who can’t afford the internship miss out on big opportunities and are then really disadvantaged when it’s time to job search.

    However, paid/unpaid aren’t always labels that can reflect the quality of the internship.

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