By Caroline Odom

Sachi Shastri planned to intern in Washington, D.C., but she did not plan to make money doing it.

“I wanted to work at a feminist sort of organization at that time, and I knew most of those places were going to be unpaid,” said Shastri, a fourth-year University of Georgia student from Eatonton, Georgia, studying biology and women’s studies.

Internships allow students to explore their interests, network with industry leaders and develop skills like communication and professionalism, said Whitney Prescott, associate director of external engagement and communications at the UGA Career Center.

“Internships are helping set students apart,” Prescott said.

For students like Shastri who feel limited to unpaid work, internships can be an expensive investment.

Shastri, a fourth-year student, interned with the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, in summer 2018.

After accepting the internship, Shastri sought support from UGA’s ​Honors in Washington program, sponsored by UGA’s honors program. Honors in Washington provided housing and a $1,500 stipend.

Without the honors support, Shastri still would have done the internship.

“I think my parents would have been okay with me doing it but they definitely would have been a lot more angry about it, so me getting money helped a whole lot,” Shastri said.

Shastri felt that she needed to start in an unpaid position. If students want to advance “up the economic ladder,” the job system generally requires that they start in an unpaid position, Shastri said.

“It’s important to realize that earlier than later, so you can start thinking about ways you can get alternative funding,” Shastri said.

Prescott encourages students considering unpaid internships to explore potential resources, like Shastri did with Honors in Washington.

Programs like ​Educational Housing Services​, a non-profit that helps students find affordable housing for internships in New York City, often contact Prescott’s office.

Prescott also suggested that students search for general scholarships intended for interns.

“So many students put it on their shoulders thinking, ‘I have to do this alone,’ which is so not true,” Prescott said.

But Prescott emphasized the importance of students taking responsibility for researching in advance.

Colleges often host career fairs that allow students to meet with potential employers. Students can inquire about compensation, so they know what to expect.

“Employers want to be helpful,” Prescott said.

Websites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Handshake, a job search platform for college students, offer reviews on companies and help students connect with former employees.

“Had I known a little bit more as a sophomore, I would have listened to the people that had done the internship before,” Shastri said. “They were a little, you know, hesitant.”

The UGA Career Center’s ​2019 Student Internship Data​ reported that 24% of the 961 respondents participated in unpaid internships while 71.6% reported being paid hourly or by salary.

“If you’re feeling discouraged about unpaid, there’s probably paid opportunities out there,” Prescott said.

When choosing to work for free, the decision depends on the goals of each student.

“I think it’s really on the onus of the student to weigh the negatives and the positives,” Prescott said. “If you feel like this is definitely going to help you want to succeed or get you to where you really want to be, it could be a benefit.”

Caroline Odom is a journalism student at the University of Georgia. The reporting for this article was completed before the campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.