Should You Pay for an Internship?


How much would you pay for your child to work for free? Internship placement agencies are betting parents will gladly pay a hefty price to help their children land the (unpaid) jobs of their dreams.

There’s no doubt internship experience can be a valuable addition to a recent graduate’s resume. And in today’s weak job market, competition for internships has grown fierce.

Employers plan to hire 7% fewer college graduates from the Class of 2010 as compared to the Class of 2009, according to a survey published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. As job offers become increasingly scarce, the pressure to gain work experience has convinced many students to seek unpaid internships.

Enter the middleman. Despite the abundance of free resources for landing an internship, agencies like the University of Dreams and The Washington Center insist they can provide premium services to students.

To help you decide if hiring an internship placement agency is worthwhile, here are the pros and cons behind two popular companies.

University of Dreams

What You’ll Get: Open only to full-time students between the ages of 18 and 26 with a 2.5 GPA or higher, University of Dreams provides guaranteed internship placement, housing, one unit of academic course credit through its partner university and access to group events.

Those who intern in the summer receive additional perks such as a meal plan, trips to tourist sites, a weekly seminar series, resume advice and daily transportation to and from the work site. The internships last from eight to 12 weeks and interns work an average of 40 hours a week.

The benefit of using University of Dreams’ services, explains Chief Marketing Officer Eric Normington, is getting ahead of other applicants and being certain your resume has been reviewed by numerous companies.

“We provide a network for people who would otherwise be trawling the Web, sending hundreds of applications,” said Normington from his office in California. “Since we began [working with students] ten years ago, very few people have failed to find a place they liked.”

The company declined to say how many applicants had been unsatisfied with their internship offers. Students who do not receive an acceptable offer within the placement deadline and cooperated fully in the search will be refunded their deposit and program fees minus the $35 application fee.

Advisers help students find internships in Barcelona, Boston, Chicago, Costa Rica, Dublin, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Sydney, Toronto and Washington D.C.

The industries where students have interned include fashion, finance, public relations, marketing, publishing and film in addition to other fields.

What It’ll Cost You: The costs are adjusted according to each location and range from $5,499 for an internship in Costa Rica to $9,699 for New York. Other fees include a $35 application fee and $1,000 deposit (Visa fees for international students are not included).

The programs are all-inclusive, meaning you cannot defer the housing costs even if you have an alternative place to stay (e.g., relative or friend’s home).

Keep in mind that the majority of internships are unpaid. University of Dreams makes no guarantee you’ll get a paid internship and you cannot limit your search to this type of internship.

The Washington Center

What You’ll Get: Available to full-time college students and recent graduates (students who graduated within 18 months of the start of the program), The Washington Center helps applicants find internships in the Washington D.C. area.

The general GPA requirement for this program is 2.75 or higher. Applicants who are accepted into the program are assigned to an adviser who will refer their applications to potential sites.

The Washington Center helps students find internships in various fields including government, nonprofit, business, media and communications, science and technology, law and criminal justice and international affairs.

The internship lasts 10 to 15 weeks and interns work about four days a week. During those weeks, interns participate in leadership development workshops and undergraduate interns are required to attend an academic course of their choosing. The program also includes group meetings and other activities, a service learning project and the completion of a portfolio at the end of the term.

What It’ll Cost You: Tuition costs vary based on the time of year students are interning. The summer program costs $5,455 plus $3,540 for housing. The fall and spring programs cost $6,345 each plus $4,550 for housing. All undergraduate programs also include a $60 application fee.

Postgraduate interns are charged a $250 application fee. The summer program and housing costs are $2,875 and $3,540, respectively. The fall and spring programs are $3,565 each and housing costs $4,550.

Students have the option of deferring the housings costs if they make arrangements to stay elsewhere.

Like the University of Dreams, The Washington Center makes no guarantee you will receive a paid internship through their program.

As for its refund policy, The Washington Center will fully refund applicants’ program fees if the applicants make the request prior to accepting an internship placement. Applicants who have confirmed an internship placement but have not checked in will receive a 50% refund of their program fees. All refund requests must be submitted in writing to the Director of Internships.

How to get an internship for free

Not convinced you need to pay someone to help you or your child find an internship? Here are some tips for doing your own research:

  1. Start early! Employers often post ads months before they expect to hire an intern. Once you find an ad that fits your interests, respond immediately. Employers are inundated with resumes and many scan only the first dozen or so that they receive.
  2. Prepare for interviews as if you were applying for a job. Ask a career counselor to review your resume and critique your interview skills.
  3. Cover all your bases. In addition to checking sites like,,, and, ask your parents, friends and relatives to help you sniff out internship opportunities.
  4. Be persistent. Most employers are eager to have college-educated interns, especially if they are willing to work for free.

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