Stop whining, unpaid internships are great

If our society is not going to pressure me to obtain a college degree, I would have paid my $200,000 tuition at an American university for an unpaid internship instead. Yeah, you read that correctly.

I am into media technology and I am an entrepreneur in heart. Quite frankly, I think school is a waste of my time. Every single day, I sit in the classroom listening to a lecture via Powerpoint slides that simply reviews the reading that was due for the class that day. My term papers, exams and grades are all based on the subjectivity of my professor. There is no experience in a college education (unless you’re involved in student media or some organization).

We pay for the privilege of an education, but we scoff at the idea of working for free (even though an internship is entirely voluntary – not forced labor). The funny thing about it is that we all got the concept of internships wrong; internships are meant to provide a valuable learning experience, and is not intended for alternative employment.

We pay just over $40,000 a year to have all-nighters, mediocre campus food, thousands of pages for readings, homework and exams. Why? We’re told to believe that a degree will help us get a job placement. However, 4.7 million of the nine million unemployed Americans graduated or went to college, according to the Labor Department’s data.

Both the paid and unpaid internships I have had offered me something more than my college education could ever provide – experience. I was able to apply my skills in the real world. I was able to start on my dream career earlier than my competitors. When I am interning, it’s a learning experience more than anything in a classroom.

There are some organizations like ProPublica that are calling for a ban on unpaid internships. In this harsh economic reality, the ban on unpaid internships will result in a catastrophe for the future of our generation. Restricting unpaid internships will just unleash further burden among young people, discourage employers from offering internships, and take away the opportunity for an experience in their career field.

Of course, unpaid internships are difficult for those in tough financial circumstances. I understand, because I am facing those difficult financial problems. As a daughter of uneducated immigrants, I have to build my college and career experience entirely on my own. I can barely afford my tuition, but it was my choice to attend an expensive institution. However, instead of lashing out at employers for not paying me to offer me an invaluable learning experience, I decided to take three jobs, create my own publication as a source of additional revenue and have an unpaid internship.

I cannot expect things to be handed to me in this hard economic reality. I understand that I have to work really hard to even obtain employment for my dream career field. Through my past employers, I was able to engage in profound networking experiences, lectures by real world professionals, great recommendation letters, unique experiences and the mentorship of successful role models. This is why I am so grateful for employers who offer internships – unpaid or paid – to provide me a pursuit of happiness, opportunity and a clear path of guidance.

Sarah Harvard is a junior in the School of International Service. She writes a bi-weekly column which comes out every other Tuesday.

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