Are Paid Internships Always Best? Maybe Not

If you are looking for an internship, and you are working on the premise that a paid internship would definitely be better than an unpaid internship – you might want to reconsider.


Well, if I’m an employer and you’re my intern and I’m not paying you…well, if I’m any kind of decent human being (I believe most people doing any kind of worthy work are) I’m going to feel an extra obligation to make sure you learn a ton from the experience. I’m more likely to make extra sure that the internship is worth your while.

But, if I’m paying you…well, now you’re basically the most junior member of my staff. I may care about your professional development, but I’m paying you, so maybe I won’t.

Is this a generalization? Sure. But it should make you think twice about whether paid internships are always better than unpaid internships.



About the Author: Eric Woodard is the author of “Your Last Day of School: 56 Ways You Can Be A Great Intern and Turn Your Internship Into a Job” and founder of, a site that teaches students to be great interns and successful during internships. Eric created and managed internship programs for the White House and U.S. Senate. He’s also consulted with a variety of national non-profit clients to create and manage successful internship programs. Over the years Eric received zillions of thank you notes from interns, and has kept every single one. Follow Eric on Twitter!



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  • Rosella Eleanor LaFevre

    I’m studying and working in the field of journalism. There are hardly any paid internships to be had. And there are lots of internships where you go and fetch people coffee and that’s about it. The companies that can afford to but do not pay their interns obviously don’t value their services. I took several unpaid internships when I was a freshman/sophomore. But no more. I will be graduating soon and I have an apartment and bills to pay. I can’t afford to work for free, especially when I have experience already. I will never intern — i.e. working 15-20 hours a week while paying to travel and eat — for free again.

    • Thanks Rosella! Glad you got experience through internships that will hopefully lead to a staff position! 

      It’s ok if you decide further unpaid opportunities aren’t for you – but just be aware that your competitors in the job market may feel differently. If you can, take side jobs, cut costs, don’t let your competitors beat you out of opportunity because you’ve set a limit on what you will do. 

      Take every extreme measure you can to take advantage of every opportunity – paid or unpaid. Like Dave Ramsey says, live like no one else now (live lean) and before long you’ll be able to live like no one else (live large).

      You can be sure your competitors in the job market will exploit every advantage they can. Is that fair? Nope. But that’s how the working world works! Good luck!