Students weigh in: job vs. internship

Most students at the University of San Diego are looking to develop marketable skills and gain invaluable work experience to build up their resumes, resulting in a lot of talk about internships. At the same time, many college students look to earn some cash, while working toward earning their degree. It seems, then, that they prefer getting a paid internship to generate the revenue they seek.

Often, many who accept an unpaid internship are focused on a long-term goal. They may do it for the opportunity to learn a new skill, gain some real world life experience, and hopefully stand out enough to get the employer’s attention and eventually a paid position.

Sophomore Emily Patterson shared her personal experience about unpaid internships and claims they are a potential jump start to a career.

“When I lived in Japan, I accepted an unpaid internship at a radio station because I wanted to gain experience, in the hopes that it would serve me better than an internship I did not have as much interest in, and took just for the money,” Patterson said. “I made future decisions based on that internship because it fit my ideal career interest and it has helped propel my interest in radio. If a similar paid internship arises, I believe my chances of getting that internship increase by having that experience under my belt. Everyone has got to start somewhere.”

Communication Studies Professor Michael Canepa, who worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune for over 30 years before switching to teaching, finds internships to be a key element in the experience of a college student.

“The number one objective of an internship is to gain valuable experience in a real-life work environment,” Canepa said. “So if money isn’t an issue, then I would advise a student to take the best available opportunity – especially if it’s in the field you want to pursue. Unfortunately, money is quite often an issue and a student might have to turn down the best opportunity for something that’s paid. Either way, an internship shows initiative and looks impressive on a student’s resume.”

Some students can be enticed by a paid internship, even if it is only slightly related to their general career goals. However, it is often the case that a great internship opportunity arises, but the position is unpaid. Then, students are faced with prioritizing the opportunity to gain great experience, work with industry professionals, or get their foot in the door of an awesome company, with the need to save up some money. This can be a difficult decision for college students because the concert they want to attend or the new computer they may need does not accept experience as payment.

For college students, to have a reliable source of revenue is especially useful as they get older and begin to incur more expenses.

Senior Christina Rontell said she pays her own rent and has come to realize that being able to save some of the money she earns is quite useful.

“Having money saved up from working made my landlords more comfortable with my still-a-student status because she checked to see how much is in my account to make sure I had enough to pay a few months rent in case I don’t have full time work right away,” Rontell said. “I have not had an unpaid internship. While I believe the experience would have been just as, if not [more], formative as the jobs I’ve had, I’m really glad I’ve never had an unpaid internship.”

The experience someone gains from an unpaid internship may be very practical, but it is often times not as desired, as many students need to get by financially. This seems to be especially true for senior students, including Rontell, who has been earning a paycheck all throughout college. Now, she has the ability to rent a place of her own and can count on her own credit score to do it.   

Junior Amber Morrow acknowledged that she takes more initiative in her current paid internship than she did during her unpaid internship last summer.

“I wasn’t that committed to my unpaid internship,” Morrow said. “I treat my paid internship more as a job.” 

Ultimately, the choice students make between taking a paid or unpaid internship position depends on their circumstances. It also depends on their willingness to treat the unpaid position as an investment of their time, knowing that the skills and experience they gain will prepare them for a future opportunity within the company.

Sometimes accepting a paid position with a company for the instant satisfaction of getting a paycheck now, rather than later, is what students need. No matter your personal opinion, be on the lookout for the opportunities that will help propel you and your career goals forward.

By Lily Espinoza, Contributor