Friday Faves: Should I Feel Guilty That I Can Afford an Unpaid Internship?

No one would ever walk up to a friend on financial aid and accuse her parents of being lazy, good-for-nothing, bad parents for not making enough money to send her to college. Yet people feel completely comfortable going up to a friend with an unpaid internship and accusing her of being a spoiled brat because she’s fortunate enough to be able to afford spending a summer making no money.

Don’t think that’s true? Just read the comments on almost any internship post on this site (like this one or this one).

I had two unpaid internships in NYC and I can’t even count the number of times people told me “it’s ridiculous that your parents are just letting you live in the city and make no money.” But was it ridiculous? In today’s world you’re expected to graduate with internship experience and if my parents decided to spend their hard-earned money paying for me to live in NYC and reach my dreams, was it wrong for me to take that opportunity? Should I have spent my summer waitressing instead? I don’t want to come off like a whiny bitch, but I want some answers on why I should feel bad that my family can afford this. Isn’t complaining about unpaid internships the same as complaining to a friend when her family goes on a week long resort vacation?

Everyone can choose how they want to spend their money and my parents chose to forgo fancy family vacations and buying me designer clothes so that I could get the most out of my college education. I appreciated how fortunate I was every day and I did work menial jobs part-time during my summer internships to make money for the school year, but that never stopped people from making accusations.

While I completely agree with the fact that the unpaid internship system is completely unfair because it gives well-off kids yet another career advantage that their other classmates can’t afford, I also think it’s unfair to expect people to not take these internships. And I don’t think it’s fair to make people feel guilty because they happen to be fortunate (assuming they’re not arrogant and entitled and making Facebook statuses that say “living off my parents”).

After graduation my internships paid off and I landed an awesome job as a blog editor. Yet people still assume it’s okay to come up to me and say things like “Blog editor? Guess your parents are still supporting you.” Not only do I constantly have to remind people that a blog editor is a legitimate, fully-salaried position in 2010, but that it’s no one’s business who was paying my rent. No one ever  goes up to my friends in grad school and says “Med school for 9 years? Guess your parents are still paying your rent.” Why do people think it’s okay for parents to spend tens of thousands of dollars on law school, but not spend a few thousand to let me spend two summers interning to reach my career goals?

In the end isn’t all about parents doing whatever they can to help their children be successful and happy?

Likey? Don’t worry, there are plenty more faves where this came from.



  1. Elizabeth says:

    I completely agree with everything in this post. I am working at an unpaid internship this summer (living at home and commuting to work everyday) and am criticized constantly for it. I've had people I barely know tell me "Eventually you'll need to grow up, get a real job, and stop living off of mommy and daddy." What people don't understand is that I am working at a legitimate job and gaining experience that will help me after college. In this economy a lot of internships that were once paid, are now unpaid internships. I am very fortunate that my parents are able to help put me through school and that I am able to afford an unpaid internship, and I know this. I think the internship system is something that needs fixed, but I cannot see that happening anytime soon. Why should I turn down something that is going to help me get ahead in my future career just because the same opportunities are not available to everyone? We live in America. A country that is extremely cutthroat and that it takes a lot to get ahead, but where it is also possible for everyone to get ahead given hard work.

  2. Tonya says:

    Of course it's not fair that some people can't afford unpaid internships, but that's no reason to lash out at those who are fortunate enough to have parents who can support them. While it can be hard working in the journalism industry where most internships are unpaid, I would never ever fault someone who had their parents supporting their unpaid internships. The only reason to judge an intern is if they are unqualified/not good at their job.

    I would say most people don't have that kind of support, but most schools offer programs that can provide grant money to people pursuing internship opportunities/decrease their summer contribution (if your school has one). And there are still PAID internships out there for nearly every field.

    Opportunities are what you make of them, CC readers!

  3. Emma says:

    I've never been an unpaid intern (I don't think my parents could afford to support that financially) but I have never and would never make someone feel bad about being one! Do I wish that I could afford an opportunity like that? Sure, sometimes. But that's definitely no excuse to make someone else feel bad, especially since an unpaid internship is still a lot of hard work, and having one doesn't mean you don't appreciate the opportunity or know the value of money. Take advantage of the chances given to you :)

  4. Katie says:

    I had never heard of people being jealous of those who did unpaid internships. Myself and a couple of my classmates had unpaid internships in the summer but we busted our a** working during the school year to pay for them since our parents couldn't. The subsequent credit card debt kinda sucks but I landed a great job right out of school so in the end it was totally worth it. When did unpaid ever equal spoiled?

  5. […] Friday Faves: Should I Feel Guilty That I Can Afford an Unpaid Internship? (collegecandy.com) […]

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  7. You have a very interesting point of view. Right now, the internship system dictates that internships need to be for credit or paid, otherwise it's not fair. It's all too black and white.
    As a proud mentor of 5 interns, I am an advocate for fair internships and compensation for hard work (in fact, I wrote a whole book about it! ) However, I feel that compensation includes (and not limited to): wages, mentorship, education, membership, and networking.
    While it is unfair that people treat the author the way they do, it is up to her to stand up for herself and explain that, while not paid, she earns compensation in a number of different ways.
    Check out my book, "Lies, Damned Lies & Internships" at http://www.amazon.com/Lies-Damned-Internships-Cla….

  8. Alicia says:

    Taking on an unpaid internship while working can be possible. Last semester, I was a full-time student while working both an unpaid internship and a job, all the while being very active in extra-curriculars on campus and volunteering. I can understand why it can be unfair to people whose parents don't help them out financially, but many people work a job and an unpaid simultaneously. It sucks, but some people have to work harder in life than others.

  9. Ashley says:

    I don't think anyone should come down on you for whatever your status may be, but I do think there's something to be said for those that live their lives completely unreflective on their class privilege (as well as any other privilege…white privilege, ability privilege, etc). Anyway, it's not individuals that need to change and stop taking advantage of unearned or come-easy privileges, it's the institution that needs to be changed so that every qualified college student, regardless of income or whatever, should be able to take on an internship and not have to worry about finances.

  10. @ShelleyT904 says:

    I love this post! I am actually working on a web-discussion on HuffPost Live about un-paid internships tomorrow, Wednesday 1/9 at 4:30pm ET and I'd love to have the author of this post on the show. Please contact me: shelley.thomas@huffingtonpost.com


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