Cynthia’s Thoughts: Paying for Internships?

Many students take unpaid internships in the summer months, either as a requirement for their coursework or because they want the experience.  Generally, students look for the internship themselves or they’re matched through the school.  However, I recently heard on the radio that people were actually bidding for internship positions at auction, with proceeds going to charity.  Paying for a non-paying job?  Sounds a little weird to me.

Media have been been discussing this over the past few years including this recent Wall Street Journal article and a post on Gawker in 2007.  Many feel that this limits internships to only people who can afford it – often internships are going for several thousand dollars, an amount that is sometimes enough for a semester,  a year of school or more.  However, those who argue for these programs say that internships are learning experiences, and like school, you pay for it.  But do you really have to pay that much?  And what if these students aren’t cut for the company?  Why should they be given the position?  Shouldn’t it go to someone who actually qualifies?   The process of becoming an intern, especially in very sought-after companies, should be competitive based on purely the candidate’s ability.  It shouldn’t be about what mom and dad can pay. 

Many of these internships are for “glamourous” jobs at fashion magazines or in politics.  These are very good positions to have because it is good on the resume, and because one can make amazing connections, ones which can do wonders for a student in the future.   However, many young people want these jobs (especially at fashion magazines) because of the glamour. Or, their parents want them to work at big-name firms, not because *THEY* necessarily want to.  A lot of times, these young people are not qualified.  Why not just have them look for a position, in a company or industry they’d like to work in, and have the companies oick them based on merit? 

I understand that finding internships are often difficult, so parents help by bidding on these positions.  But looking and researching for an internship is part of the learning process.  And so is rejection.  Getting an unpaid internship should be just like getting a paying job.  You apply for the position, get an interview (if you’re lucky) and that, along with your qualifications, will determine whether you get the position or not.  Of course, good networking and connections help with references, but I don’t think parents should outright pay for an internship, even if the money goes to a good cause.


  1. Another way to help widen the gap between the Have’s and Have-not’s. As you stated above the positions should go to those who are most qualified. Now if your family happens to be “connected” in some way then one wouldn’t need to buy their way in to begin with and the status quo will still exist for the very wealthy. But with college tuition reaching exorbitant heights, the simple fact that most North Americans are swimming in debt they can barely handle coupled with the current economy, this is a recipe for disaster which does little but frustrate and already disheartened generation.

    It’s a pity when the new US leader’s slogan is “Yes we can” will be reduced to “Yes, you can. But only, if you can afford it!”. Considering the last US president would have most likely flunked out of his Ivy League college were it not for the money and influence of his father, this perhaps shouldn’t come as a big surprise.