Asa marketing intern for Ticketmaster, senior Erin Ayers is working for free.
Ayers said she chose to intern this quarter because she thought it would help her stand out among the masses of eager college grads entering the job market each year.
"I need the hands-on experience to be competitive in the career field [I] want to go into," Ayers said. "I feel it gives a me a real edge in interviews to be able to relate stories of what I've done. When employers know that you've been out there working, I believe they tend to give more credence to your opinions and ideas in an interview."
Ayers did not have to take out additional student loans to compensate for the lack of income. But she does spend her evenings tutoring on campus to make some extra money.
Ayers is not alone -- in today's competitive job market, many students feel internships have become an essential part of the undergraduate college experience. Students wanting to get an edge on the competition are left to decide whether they will take an internship that may or may not get them a better job later at the cost of giving up part- or full-time jobs that provide them with an income.
According to the UW Center for Career Services, both paid and non-paid internships are available in Seattle. Ultimately, it is up to the student to decide if he or she is willing to accept an internship without monetary compensation.
"Internships can be paid or non-paid ... the employing organization decides whether to provide compensation for an internship," said Diana Martin, associate director of the Center for Career Services. "It is a student's decision whether to accept a non-paid internship. Students will accept a non-paid internship if it is feasible to do so."
Students can also use internships to supplement classroom learning.
"An internship should be viewed as an extension of the education experience," Martin said. "Internships allow students to apply the theoretical training they acquire in the classroom to real-world work situations.
According to David Sherman, director of student services for the school of communication, 70 percent of communication internship positions are unpaid, leaving few paid internships for students who need income in addition to work experience.
Christina Kerr, an academic counselor in the political science department, views the cost of not being paid for a quarter of work as an asset for a future career.
"Very few [internships] are paid," Kerr said. "[But] my feeling about that, having done an internship in college, is it is an investment you are making in your salary potential."
Kerr said an internship can make the difference between earning $8 an hour because the applicant has some experience working in his or her chosen field, as opposed to the $6 an hour they could earn without experience.
"I believe [my internship] will add at least a few thousand dollars more a year to my base-salary that I otherwise would not have had when I get my first job," Ayers said.
Kerr said internships can also evolve into paid jobs, whether at the same place a student interns or in a related field.
Whether paid or unpaid, internships are a great place to form a network that can be helpful when it comes to looking for a real job, career specialists said.
"[Internships] are often a good way to be involved in a network," said Kerr. "You may become aware of upcoming jobs, and if a job becomes available where you are doing an internship, you may be offered the opportunity to apply."
Almost as important as the internship itself is the recommendation a student can get from a supervisor after they have completed the internship, Kerr said.
Lindsay Scola, who graduated from the UW with a degree in political science last year, held several internships as an undergraduate. She attributes her job -- office manager and scheduler for Washington Congressman Adam Smith at his Washington, D.C. office -- to her interning experience.
"I would say that having my internship on my resume accompanied by positive recommendations from it increased my chances of getting my first job which led me to where I am now," Scola said.
One of Scola's internships was in Washington Senator Maria Cantwell's office. Though it cost her some extra money, Scola said the experience she gained more than compensated for it.
"When I went to Washington, D.C. for my Senate internship I had to borrow extra money to be there, but I found housing and the experience was definitely worth it," she said. "Regardless of the money aspect, the experience will pay for itself eventually."
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