Should I accept an unpaid internship?

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You’ve been searching for an internship for months. After countless applications, the day finally arrives when you’re offered an internship. However, you discover that this opportunity is unpaid. Your heart sinks. You question, should I accept the offer?

Why companies don’t pay interns

At first, an unpaid internship sounds like you’re being taken advantage of. Well, that’s because you are! Companies can be very short sighted. Those who don’t pay their interns view them as disposable minions who will add little value to the company. They’re only offering internships so they can score some free labor while appearing to care about empowering the next generation of employees. No matter how they spin it, saying you’re not being paid because of the “amazing opportunity” is pure bologna!

Hard work should be rewarded with pay. It’s as simple as that. When companies don’t pay their interns, they may score some free labor, but they alienate those interns from ever wanting to return (which is the complete OPPOSITE goal of why companies offer internships in the first place!)

So, should I accept it or not?

This is an extremely difficult question and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’ll offer our opinion but realize that it’s purely general advice and doesn’t apply to everyone:

  • If you have no other opportunities available to you, you should accept the internship. An internship, even if it’s unpaid, is better than no internship. You’ll probably resent the company, but at least you can strengthen your resume. It’s not ideal, but it may be the only option.
  • If you have two opportunities, one paid and the other unpaid, and both are in your field of interest, we’d recommend taking the paid internship. By paying their interns, the company is signaling that they care about your development and you as a human. This will lead to a more productive internship. You don’t want to go to a place that is only going to give you minion work that adds nothing to your resume.

Try to get some money from these stingy b@*#rds

First off, if an unpaid internship is having you work more than 15 hours a week, they should pay you something. If it’s full-time, tell them you’d love to intern there, but considering it’s unpaid AND full-time, you need some type of compensation. Try to negotiate a living stipend, transportation reimbursement, meal reimbursement, or something.

If they still say that you won’t be paid but they expect you to work full-time, you should say, “I accept” (basically keeping them as a backup plan). You should then immediately try and find an internship somewhere else, even if that internship is at a small company. Just make sure it’s related to your field.

Try asking everyone you know, knocking on companies’ doors, and begging to have an internship. As soon as you find a better opportunity, ditch that unpaid, full-time gig and go somewhere that will appreciate you. Check out “Does it matter where I do my internship“, for more information on this topic.

Concluding thoughts

It is important to believe that hard work should be paid for. However, some companies believe that the experience they’re giving you is pay for your time. We call BS.

We all understand how big a bummer unpaid internships can be, but since an unpaid internship is temporary and it may be the only option at the time, you will still gain valuable experience from the opportunity.

This topic is not as clear cut as others. Try to take a step back, look at the long-term, and ask yourself, “Will this experience, even if it is unpaid, give me a better internship or full-time opportunity in the future?” If the answer is yes, then take the internship. If it is no, then move on.

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Maryn Coughran

Maryn is a co-founder and leads the marketing and outreach efforts at Wisdify. She ensures we are connecting with our customers, hearing their feedback, and then implementing their suggestions.

Prior to Wisdify, Maryn co-founded (along with Nate) BostonExcel, a Microsoft Excel training company that worked with dozens of companies in virtually every industry. Maryn’s clients included numerous Fortune 1000 companies, prestigious universities, startups and everything in between. She also happened to write and illustrate a children’s book. Let’s just say she’s a woman of many talents.

Maryn earned a BA in Economics from Wellesley College.


Joe is the owner of Wisdify.  He is passionate about learning and development, he loves helping people achieve their professional and personal goals. Joe is a big believer in the power of online learning and community with 20 years of finance and accounting experience.


Kelsey Murphy

Kelsey is Wisdify’s expert content developer. Taking feedback from our students, Kelsey creates extremely relevant blog posts and leads the development of Wisdify’s other free resources.

Prior to Wisdify, Kelsey worked as a business technology strategy consultant for Forrester, a global research and advisory firm. While there, she acted as project manager for numerous research-based consulting projects.

Kelsey earned a BA in Economics and Mathematics from Wellesley College.

Madison Bess

Madison oversees the social media strategy at Wisdify and makes sure we stay closely connected with our students, receive their feedback, and provide our students with valuable information.

Prior to Wisdify, Madison successfully ran the social media accounts for multiple companies. She also found time to start her own personal training company (which she still runs).

Madison earned a BA in English from Brigham Young University.

The Buckaroos

Gwyn, Jack, and Kate are the adorable tow-heads that lead up Wisdify’s campaigns on cuteness, energy, and sleep-deprivation.