How to do an Unpaid Internship and Still Get Paid
Students share how the ELC's Unpaid Internship Support Scholarship has helped them.Oct 6, 2023
We all recognize the importance of internships. With most Employers asking applicants to have 1-3 years of experience in their given field for entry level professional positions, internships are the best way to gain experience and understanding of expectations in a professional setting. Unfortunately, unpaid internships are a reality for some students. For the 2022-23 school year, over a third of the internships (36%) processed through the Experiential Learning Center (ELC) were unpaid.
NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, issued a statement earlier this year highlighting the inequities of unpaid internships and the need for all internships to be paid. Students who complete paid internships tend to make upwards of $20k more than their counterparts who complete unpaid internships. Paid interns are also offered jobs at a higher rate than unpaid interns. In NACE’s research, they found minorities (women, Black, Hispanic, first-gen) were disproportionately underrepresented in paid internships while their white, male, continuing-generation counterparts were overrepresented.
A problem a lot of unpaid interns have is needing to cut back hours at their jobs to complete the required number of internship hours during any given semester. Because of this, they then find themselves struggling to make ends meet because of a smaller paycheck or no paycheck at all. While the ELC cannot require all Employers to pay their interns, we can help offset some of the financial burden incurred from completing an unpaid internship. Using funds from the two Internship & Job Fairs each year, the ELC can offer the Unpaid Internship Support Scholarship to a small number of students completing unpaid internships each semester. Scholarship awards range up to $4,500 each semester depending on how many hours are worked at the internship during the semester. Last year, we awarded 12 students a total of $31,500.
Here’s how the ELC’s Unpaid Internship Support Scholarship has helped CU Denver students:
Meti Merdassa, a business student, completed an unpaid internship in the Spring of 2023. She describes the Unpaid Internship Support Scholarship as one of the best things to happen to her: “I was required to do a 150hr internship to fulfill one of the requirements. During that time, I had a part-time job and also, I was taking 7 classes to finish up my study.” Meti credits the scholarship for allowing her to be able to work and complete her internship and studies without struggling financially, saying “This internship has helped me to achieve my goals.”
“As this scholarship has helped me to be where I am today, I really wanted to share my experience and inspire other students. Thank you, Lynx Connect for helping me achieve my dreams.” ~ Meti Merdassa, CU Denver alum
Connor Tyree, a Criminal Justice major, interned with a local law firm over the summer: “I had the opportunity to intern at a criminal defense law firm downtown and earn credit for it. Unfortunately, like most internships in the criminal justice field, it was unpaid. This factor immediately concerned me because I didn’t know how I was going to afford my lifestyle while working upwards of thirty hours a week unpaid.” He was excited to find out about the Unpaid Internship Support Scholarship, and receiving it felt like a huge weight had been taken off his shoulders, “It meant that I was now able to work less at the part-time job I had on the side and truly put all my energy into learning from the internship. It helped me be a better employee at both jobs and encouraged me to work harder.”
“Overall, the scholarships helped my academic journey deeply and I am beyond grateful for it.” ~ Connor Tyree, Senior at CU Denver.
If you are completing an unpaid internship and want more information on the Unpaid Internship Support Scholarship, reach out to your Internship Advisor or the Experiential Learning Center (firstname.lastname@example.org). Scholarship applications typically open a few weeks before the beginning of a semester and close on Census Date.