Today’s college students are lucky – after multiple lawsuits over the past few years, more and more companies are starting to offer paid internships. If you’re able to land one, good for you! But keep in mind that paid internships are much more competitive than the unpaid ones, and you might not always make the cut. Unless finances are a big issue, you shouldn’t completely disregard unpaid internships – many of them have added value that you may not have considered.
Paid internships are typically found at big corporations. Some of these companies have very structured internship programs, and you may wind up on a team that really knows how to manage and mentor interns. But, at a large corporation, there’s also a chance that you’ll get lost in the shuffle. You’re getting paid, so no one is going to feel guilty about making you shred papers all day.
The companies that offer unpaid internships are typically smaller, and as a result, they’re often more hands-on. If you land at a company that really needs the extra help, you’re going to have many more higher-level responsibilities thrown your way than you would at a large corporation. Plus, you’ll have more direct access to the top executives at the company, which is great for building your network (or getting hired later on!). So before you decide to focus exclusively on paid internships during your search, consider the potential benefits of an unpaid position. Do your research, and find the place that is going to help you most in the long run, regardless of whether or not it offers extra spending money.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan