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Thumbs Up computer, college age girlFor college students and recent college grads, every single penny counts. With thousands of dollars in student debt hanging overhead, or the prospect of living with Mom and Dad after graduation looming, many 20 somethings discount the very real benefits of an unpaid internship. Instead, they opt for a paying, but unrelated job, which has little or no correlation to their education or ultimate career goals.

Choosing to embark on an unpaid internship can be a leap of faith. But, the benefits are real and can far surpass the instant gratification of the meager paycheck earned at a short-term job. An internship related tor field of study can help students gain experience, connections, and so much more!

What the experts say about unpaid internships

According to Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, estimates have shown that, “of the million or so students doing internships, half aren’t being paid for their hard work. And it’s not only students, but college graduates who are also accepting unpaid internships, according to U.S. News & World Report.”

So, what do they know that you don’t?

The real benefits of an unpaid internship

Internships, whether paid or unpaid, offer several major benefits to young people just embarking on their careers. Here are just a few:

Resume booster. If the most challenging job you’ve held by the time you’ve graduated college is working the counter of local ice cream shop, you’re in serious trouble. Potential employers want to see how grads handle real world problems, most notably within their field of study. How do they work as part of a team? How innovative can they be when searching for solutions? An unpaid internship provides crucial, real world experience.

Job Generator. A recent student of university graduates shows that students who completed an internship were 13% more likely to find a full-time job upon graduating! Often, an unpaid internship is a dress rehearsal of sorts and can lead to a job offer upon completion.

Networking, Networking, Networking. Professional references must be earned. And, those gained from a professional internship can prove invaluable for many years.

College Credit. According to Internships.com, “An internship with credit towards graduation combines academic coursework with relevant work experience. Some colleges don’t give credits for any internships or only to juniors and seniors. Check with your professor or department chair to find out if your college accepts academic credit.” Of course, with college credits valued anywhere from $250/credit hour for a public, in-state university, to $1000+ per credit hour for a private four-year college, your internship just “earned” you some serious cash.

Professional etiquette 101. This is your opportunity to witness the realities of the workplace environment first-hand — from appropriate dress code, to working as a team, to understanding your role and accepting authority, to proper office, phone and email behavior. These are lessons you simply won’t learn in class.

Finding the right internship

Of course, not all internships (paid or unpaid) are created equally. So, we’ve compiled some resources to get you started:

Finding just the right one for you can feel like a daunting task – but it’s well worth the effort. According to US News and World Report, “More than 56 percent of students from the class of 2015 who participated in an internship or co-op had received at least one job offer by April of last year, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Only 36.5 percent of undergrads who didn’t have an internship or co-op experience had received at least one job offer.”

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