Whether or not you’ll get paid for your internship is probably the most frequently asked question by college students look for internship placements. After all, haven’t we been told never to work for free? But internships are a little bit different, and follow a different set of rules than regular employment, and a successful internship usually has nothing to do with whether or not you are being paid.
There are essentially two kinds of internships: paid and for-credit. In the corporate worlds of finance, real estate and law, paid internships are common, and some pay as much as an entry level position. Typically the higher the pay, the more competitive the internship becomes. In the world of not-for-profit, education and arts, internships are generally unpaid, but will offer credits towards graduation.
High-paying internships are not only competitive to obtain, but can also be competitive in the workplace. If you are thinking about your internship as a long job interview, those that are high paying have a higher likelihood of turning into full-time jobs than those that are for credit. After all, the company you work for has already made a large investment by hiring someone without experience, and has spent a significant amount of time as well as money training you. It is important to realize that even if an internship is paid, you should treat it as more than just a job, and go out of your way to do your best work everyday to not only earn a paycheck, but to get noticed by the people in charge. Typically, a company will have fewer open positions than they do interns, and each intern will be vying for the same full-time spot.
This is not to say that for-credit internships do not lead to employment. In fact, many for-credit internships, specifically those that actively recruit through the university career services department, will be looking for the best and brightest students to groom through and internship, but will also want to see what kind of commitment they show to the organization without a paycheck. For that reason, it is important to treat your for-credit internship position like you would a paid internship.
It is also essential that you make sure that your college or university accepts credit for an internship. In some cases you may have to get sponsorship from a professor of the chairperson of the academic department. Just don’t assume that you can credit after you’ve already completed the internship, as this is rarely the case.
Of course, for many people getting paid is an absolute necessity. If this is the case and you cannot find a paid internship in your field, you might want to consider getting a corporate internship. While this internship may not be a direct path to your professional goals, any work experience can ultimately prepare you for a career. Even if you are only doing general office work like copying and data entry, these skills will still be very valuable when you are looking for an entry-level position. Some places to look for a more "general internship" are local law offices or real estate agencies that may not have considered hiring an intern, but may have some office work for you to do. Working in a smaller office will also make it more likely for you to be involved in higher-level projects.
It is highly unlikely that you will find a paid internship that also offers academic credit, but some exist. In most cases these "paid" credit internships offer a stipend instead of an hourly or weekly wage. The stipends are generally on the modest side, covering things like transportation to the internship placement and small living allowance. Sometimes a stipend internship position will also include a food allowance.