Internships are about experience, not money


By Rebecca Kapolnek

As early as freshman year, my academic advisor told me, “the job experience you will gain from an internship is invaluable.” The word “experience” with regard to internships took on new meaning to me this summer, after my junior year.

Currently, I am interning with Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in their foundation office. I do anything from planning the center’s major events to writing their public relations documents. I work 40 hours a week, dress in business casual attire and am considered an employee. It is my dream job. However, there is one catch — I am not paid.

To be completely honest, when I was looking for internships last spring, I kept my sights set on a job that would pay. The thought of working an entire summer and having no income frightened me. I had been working since my sophomore year of high school — not having a cash flow was not an option.

I almost did not even apply to any job that would not pay, and that is not how I believe students should go about their internship hunt.

After countless applications and interviews, I landed the position with Saint Joe’s. While the fact that the position was unpaid was not ideal, I decided the valuable experience I would be receiving from the hospital was more important than pay.

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That was the best decision I have ever made.

Working at Saint Joe’s this summer has solidified my love for event planning. One week into the job, I suddenly didn’t even care about the money and I quickly started getting excited to go to work every day. Because of this, I have adopted the opinion that college students should not write-off an amazing, relevant internship just because it is unpaid.

Talking to people who had internships five years back, you will rarely hear that they were paid. Paid internships are a luxury. Some of us are lucky to have this luxury, but those who are not as fortunate should not feel bad about accepting an offer for something unpaid.

In my mind, there is no difference between an internship that is paid vs. unpaid. It is all about what the specific company can afford and one should not feel as though it is a reflection on the job they are doing or the field they are interning in.

Yes, I was a little bit freaked out about going the entire summer without a paycheck, but I did what I had to do and got a part-time job as well.

Having an unpaid internship is not a death sentence for your social life either. Sure, you might not be able to afford those Lollapalooza tickets or a new designer purse, but by cutting back on the daily coffee runs or vending machine purchases you can save yourself tons of money, making more funds available to have fun.

If anything, having an unpaid internship has made me better at managing the money I make at my second job. I have learned how to live thrifty.

When looking for an internship, college students really need to focus on what experience they will gain from the job and not just how much it is going to pay. The money will come with experience and the only way to get this experience is to get an internship in a field you enjoy.

Throughout my time at Saint Joe’s I have learned so many things that I can take with me as I establish my career. I learned how to make publications, use Publisher efficiently, set up venues and run an event from start to finish. But most importantly, I look forward to going to work every single day. My boss inspires me and the entire office truly loves what they are doing.

Being in an atmosphere like this gives me hope for my future in the field of public relations and event planning.

Internships should not be about money and students should not fear a summer without a paycheck. Get a job during the school year to make up the difference or do what I did and get a part-time job on days off of the internship. Go for the experience and knowledge you will gain through unpaid internships.

Although I wasn’t paid, I feel more prepared than ever to enter the workforce next year because of the skills I gained at Saint Joe’s this summer. And, to top it all off, I have had the time of my life.

Rebecca is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].