Column: Unpaid internships often worth it

By Melissa Michalak

Daily Illini, U. Illinois via UWIRE

Excitement overwhelms you as you hang up the phone. You pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. It’s for real: You were just offered your dream internship. Unfortunately, there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). The internship is unpaid and in a different state.

This is the predicament I found myself in last year. Ever since I was young, I dreamed about working for the E! Network. Then in April 2011, I was offered the chance to intern at E! Online for the entire summer in LA.

When I first found out I got the internship, I was so excited I cried tears of joy (yes, real tears). After calling my parents, those tears became ones of stress and sadness.

“I’m excited for you, but you can’t afford to go to LA for the summer,” my mom said.

“Where are you going to live? How are you going to pay for an apartment? How are you going to pay for food?” my dad asked.

I was annoyed that they couldn’t be happy for me and excited that my dreams were coming true, but I also knew they were right. It’s not like I had a bunch of money lying around that I could use. After all, I’m a college student.

I was in a dilemma. Not knowing what to do, I turned to the best method to make a tough decision: a pros and cons list.


  • Working for my dream company
  • Working for one of the most well-respected companies in entertainment
  • Getting amazing experience
  • Living in a different city
  • Meeting people who could catapult my career
  • Getting a taste of the lifestyle I’ve always wanted


  • Not knowing how to get the money to live in LA
  • Being far away from friends and family
  • Not knowing anyone in LA
  • Going into debt

After looking over my list I knew there was no question: I had to take the internship. I did everything I could to figure out how I was going to make it work.

Luckily, I was able to get a loan as well as a part-time job in LA. I searched endlessly and found a safe place to live and a roommate.

On May 16, 2011, I started my first day at E! Online.The experience I earned there is irreplaceable. Not only did I learn how the entertainment news business works and meet amazing people that gave me great advice for my future career, but I also learned a lot about myself.

I may owe more than I would have if I interned somewhere closer to home, but what’s a couple thousand dollars more to my already large heap of college loans? I look at it as an investment in my future.

And that’s my advice to you. No matter what field you’re going into, experience is the best thing to have. It can make or break your chances at getting a good job right out of college.

So take a chance. No matter how far of a stretch it may be or how hopeless it may seem, if you try hard enough, you can always find a way.

It my not be ideal to work your butt off for free, but trust me — in the long run, the money you could have made is nothing compared to the experience you will gain.

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