What My Unpaid Summer Internship Taught Me About Paychecks

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Summer. Such a short, simple word that carries so much fun and happiness in it. Well, I hate to bring of bad news, but that short, simple word starts to involve some level of stress when you enter the world of college. Say goodbye to the pool splashes and color wars. You have now entered the world of internships.

The last few weeks of college before summer starts aren’t what you’d call terrific. With the overwhelming piles of paper and notes clogging your desk, the study guides you have to write, the last few nights of going out and saying goodbye to friends you may not see for a while, you start to forget about the three-month gap between the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. I became a prisoner of this unfortunate cycle. Late April rolled around and the giant question with no answer constantly showed up: “What are you doing this summer?”

As a double major in communications and sociology, I should have unlimited options. With a resume of multiple past internships and job experiences, I thought that I would have no problem at all. But, no one really tells you how competitive it is to help out a company as a college student.

I was starting to get sick of writing about my accomplishments and persuasions of why I am the one for the internship. The sentences started sounding repetitive and my tired fingers couldn’t type anymore. After phone call after phone call of explaining my roles at previous positions and where I see myself in five years, I was totally over it. I felt so ready to sit on my couch for the next three months and watch countless episodes of How I Met Your Mother.

And then, I found my first mistake: I held a misconception that I could only accept a paid internship. That notion limited me beyond my belief. Sure, making a little pocket money is great. But I needed experience. The future and my career seemed like a blind concept. As much as I wished Ted Mosby could teach me exactly what I needed, I had to get into the work force and see for myself. So after a few more e-mails and a few more phone calls, I landed an internship. I’d work a hefty, unpaid 40 hours a week for a health and wellness, clean eating food delivery company. And, I couldn’t be more excited.

While I could go on and on about how much I learned about the world of health and wellness, working in customer service, how to give a presentation in front of a full office and the many computer programs I learned, I won’t.

A paycheck is always nice, but my summer internship gave me so much more than some spending money. No, I’m not just talking about the free breakfast and lunch they gave me daily. I learned what it means to work hard— for a small startup company, something always needs work done. Every person plays an extremely important role—even the college intern. I learned how to take on any task assigned to me, even if I didn’t want to do it. And, most of all, I learned how to do work well. I started to showcase my accomplishments through the work I created, not by numbers and decimal points on a rectangular piece of paper.

SoI guess you could say I learned what it really means to have experience. I wasn’t staying overtime just to make a few extra dollars. I worked because I wanted to learn and I wanted to get the most out of my internship as possible. Although I’m not exactly rolling around in cash, my resume, contacts/network, knowledge and experience have gained more than I could ever hope for.

Samantha is a sophomore at Tulane University studying communications and sociology. You can find her watching Gilmore Girls, trying every Ben and Jerry's flavors or walking around NYC

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