|It's funny because it's true! Wait... (Source.)|
First up, lets look at paid internships. Obviously, these are the gold standard. Unfortunately, a golden turd is still a turd. Why is this turdish? Well, since they can pay you far less than most employees (i.e., you can end up getting minimum wage for professional work) and since you work part-time during regular semesters, you're likely to end up making less than if you took a job at McD's.
"But valuable work experience!" calls out Strawman Schmoe.
Well, yes. Sure. And networking. But did you know that colleges aren't obligated to offer you college credit for paid internships? In fact, most won't, because you are being compensated for your time. When my college prof was trying to set me up with an internship, she straight up told me that she couldn't offer full credit on a paid internship.
So, in addition to taking a grunt job that pays birdseed and sucks out as much of your time as a full time class load, you still have to carry a class that will take up the slot an unpaid internship would. Oh yeah, and if they pay you? They can absolutely demand a full workload concomitant to a normal entry level employee. I knew several students who saw their houses when they slept and showered, and spent the rest of their time bouncing between internship and school. Because they took up equal time and effort.
Ok, but what about unpaid? I mean, you have to have an internship on the books for your grade, and your field is all about networking.
Welp, that's a turd's turd. On top of not getting paid to do whatever work they can convince you to do, you're also not protected under sexual harassment laws. Oh yeah. If you're not "technically" employed, employee protections don't apply. Oh, and that's still a 10-20 hour drag on your schedule.
But hey, at least you get college credit, right?
Well, here's the rub. That counts as a class. And at my college at least, and most colleges I've checked, you pay for it just like a class. Yep. You pay the college for the credits gained by working a part time job.
Does this sound like a wage scam to anyone else yet? To recap: unpaid = high workload, no legal employee protections, and you may have to pay your school for credit.
Paid = usually entry level or lower for a high workload, no credit, a significant drain on your time, oh, and if you want to keep a full course load, you'll be running at least 22-55 hours between school and internship depending on how many hours your internship runs.
Now, all of the above info? That's reality in a vacuum. That's excluding social and family commitments, bills, drive time, gas, health issues, homework load, sleep, eating. That's just the internship and time spent in class.
At the bottom of all this, I'll hit my point. If your prof is pushing an internship, do look into it. But outside of "high networking" fields like politics, law, and medicine, or fields where internships can pay extremely well (petroleum engineering and investment banking are apparently the best) or fields that call for security clearances to work, you should probably see what your school has in your field. Lab assistants make good money, as do tutors.
As an example, I worked at my school paper, gained real life experience in a news room, and got paid decently well for it. I did everything but online editor and advertisement over a period of three years, and was the editor for close to a year and a half. And that counted as work experience I could have touted should I have chosen to advance in journalism as a career. It's not the path for everyone, but it worked for me.
Which, of course, is the same argument I would apply to internships. Again, barring networking being a barrier to entry in your field, internships should be a personal choice that you make knowing that they have an excellent chance of sucking Lucifer's monstrous wang.
So you really need or want an internship, for the love of gods, look at it very closely. Because a little research can be the difference between being an unpaid or underpaid slave, and gaining valuable life experience and networking while not working yourself into the ground.