What if getting an unpaid internship actually negatively affected the salary you can earn? How would that affect paying down your student loans?

Between 2011 and 2013, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) asked graduating seniors if they’d ever received a job offer, and if they’d had an internship (paid or unpaid). Results from all three years concluded that unpaid internships did not give anyone an up when it came to finding paid employment. A whopping 83 percent of surveyed students who had completed an unpaid internship did not receive a consequent job offer. When it came to salary, former unpaid interns were actually offered less money than those with no internship experience.

NACE then tried to figure out if what a person studied correlated with whether they settled for unpaid work. Hiring rates from a recent NACE presentation showed that unpaid interns fared roughly the same or worse in the job market compared to non-interns across a variety of fields, including political science, engineering, English, business, and communications. In 2014, Forbes reported that people who had worked unpaid internships tend to take lesser-paying jobs than those with no internship experience whatsoever, and are paid about a third less than counterparts who had worked paid internships. According to the article, the average salary for a first job for someone having just completed an unpaid internship is $35,721, compared to $37,087 for person with no internship experience, and $51,930 for someone with paid internship experience.

In a tough job market, we can become desperate to get our foot in the door. It’s essential to be aware of what you’re doing. Don’t set yourself up for a lifetime of decreased earnings. If you MUST do an internship, push for a paid one. It could make all the difference in the world.

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