By Kelly Corbett
Social Media Editor
During one of my early morning commutes to my unpaid summer internship, I squeezed through the rush of New Yorkers and found myself asking, “Is this really worth it?” I had already been on a bus for over an hour and the clock had not yet struck 9 a.m. I still had a 15-block trek from Port Authority to my office building and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing more money on much-needed coffee as I passed at least three Starbucks and two Dunkin Donuts.
I realized then how heavy my bag was with my packed lunch and old bus tickets — which now outnumbered the dollars in my wallet — as I mentally prepared myself for an eight-hour workday inside a cubicle. Although the night before I brainstormed ideas to pitch at a meeting, re-worked my article until I was content and read up on some old issues, I reminded myself that I’ll walk out of my Park Avenue office building after work today zero dollars richer and two bus tickets poorer.
My internship at Working Mother magazine in the city did not include a travel stipend. Although some argue that was quite silly of me because of my depleting bank account, I disagree. Unpaid internships can be worth it, and this one exceeded my expectations.
While I was not paid in cash, I was paid in experience. I learned skills that I was not taught in my journalism courses at the College. I learned what it was like to actually work in the magazine industry. I was able to pitch ideas, write articles and attend events. While I can read a textbook about being a journalist in class, this summer I actually was one — even if it was at my own expense.
An added bonus was that I was showered in freebies since any newbie company wanting exposure will send stuff to magazines for publicity. I was given free books, food and other little tidbits as the companies strived to make their way onto our pages.
I was even invited to attend events, such as holiday showcases, where professionals treated me, the 19-year-old unpaid intern, as if I was the editor-in-chief.
Besides the free goodies, I took this internship for a reason. I started the summer being a magazine reader, but not a magazine writer. In the course of two months, I adapted to writing magazine pieces, added more clips to my writing portfolio and made connections with esteemed writers who trooped their way up the magazine food chain, just like I hope to do one day.
I learned what it’s like to work for a magazine and what it’s like to sit in on a meeting and pitch ideas. I also used a content management system other than WordPress, and I’m now able to upload my own articles. I learned what it’s like to be on deadline and to be in a writer’s block slump. I was even given an editorial calendar to follow for the month. All of this made me feel like I was a part of the team.
While I could have taken internships that were closer and cost less in travel, would it have been something I liked as much as interning for Working Mother?
I constantly see internship opportunities in Trenton, which is convenient during the semester, but I don’t want to write their typical hard news stories or press releases. Even if it’s paid, I don’t want to type all of this technical nonsense because that’s just not me.
I observed all the other workers in the office and saw their daily tasks and, while they have a demanding workload, I realized I want that workload. One day, I want to be that full-time New York magazine writer. Though I’m not getting paid now, one day I will be.
Bottom line is, I woke up in the morning excited to go to my internship for the low wage of unpaid, the hectic commute and the morning scramble to get to the office on time. That’s when I knew it was worth it.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice to get what you want and I’m glad to say I left with new writing skills, clips and a good idea of what the professional working world is like. A paycheck would have been nice, but definitely not necessary.
You have the rest of your life to make money. If you really like the opportunity, make changes, bring your lunch, be frugal and don’t pass up learning experiences just because they aren’t followed by a paycheck.
Unpaid internships are worth it if it’s something you love to do — not just something you’re doing to plaster on your resume. As long as the commute is reasonable and the travel expenses are low, why not take it?
I began my journey as a journalist this summer and I loved it. When will your journey begin?
Students share opinions around campus
“I think that it undervalues our skill set to not pay us for doing a job well. I think it’s a modern way to take advantage of students. I heard horror stories of people filing papers and not getting paid.”
“I think it depends on the type of internship. There doesn’t have to be a monetary award, especially if it’s in your chosen field. I shadowed a dentist and it was a once in a lifetime experience. Just be cognizant of what internship you pick. Any work is easier when you’re passionate about it.”