Are Unpaid Internships Worth it?

“Internships are a waste of time, you should be getting paid for your labor.” This is something I was told several times after landing an internship as a content creator for the Decorah Farmers Market this summer. And now that the internship is well underway, I have formed my own opinion on the value of internships; but first, let me explain how I received my internship and what it involves.

How to Land an Internship 101

One day last spring, I received an email from the head of the Visual Communication Department at Luther College. The email described the Decorah Farmers Market’s desire for “a student who wishes to practice engagement strategies and storytelling on social media through video, illustration, and graphic design.” As a visual communication major, I was foaming at the mouth for this kind of opportunity.

I immediately emailed the farmers market managers and set up an interview. Later that week, we met in person and I showed them my work. As it turned out, they liked it! I woke up the very next morning with an email saying I got the job! The process of getting this internship taught me how valuable it is to have a good relationship with the department head of your major. In my case, landing the job was all thanks to Richard Merritt and Luther College’s growing Visual Communication program.

Community Contribution and Connection

During the course of the internship, I’ve had unique opportunities to track social media analytics, take/edit photos and videos, brainstorm social media campaigns, and hang up posters (that I designed) around Decorah. The projects I work on all have the common goal of raising community awareness for the Decorah Farmers Market, and although the internship has been a great opportunity for me to sharpen my visual communication skills, the real joy of the job has been interacting with the wider Decorah community.

I have been able to meet many amazing Decorah residents, chat with farmers market aficionados, and play my part in stimulating the local economy. It is a great feeling to know the work I am doing supports the community I get to call home.

So, Are Unpaid Internships Worth It?

Now that you know how I got the internship and what the work entails, I can give my opinion on unpaid internships/volunteerism: IT IS SO WORTH IT!!

The internship has allowed me to actively strengthen my skill set in ways I never imagined; such as building and maintaining my portfolio, growing my network of references for future job searches, and managing solo projects and their deadlines. I have also learned that developing relationships with mentors in your local community can help build valuable professional connections. I really feel that I have been given the opportunity to flourish in this position, and even though it hasn’t been a paid internship, it’s been an experience beyond measurable value. It makes me grateful for my major, my job, and for the Decorah community as whole.