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Articles / Applying to College / Is Real Job Better than Unpaid Internship?

May 7, 2012

Is Real Job Better than Unpaid Internship?

Question: About a week ago, I went on a college tour where many colleges recommended employment as a way to boost admissions chances. I was recently accepted for an unpaid internship at a local lab this summer. Would most colleges consider this employment, or would they prefer it if I found additional paid employment employment in addition to or instead of the internship?

Many admission officers do have a soft spot for applicants who have held real-world jobs … and often the crummier the better (e.g., flipping burgers at Mickey D’s trumps working as a counselor at your favorite day camp). But I would never recommend giving up an unpaid internship in a lab in order to don an apron or a whistle. In fact, if the internship is consistent with your academic interests and/or future major, this can help boost admission odds, too.


On the other hand, if your entire application will shout out “Science, Science, Science” (and, especially … sad to say …. if you are Asian and you suspect that your resume is stereotypical), it would be ideal if you can find a very part-time minimum-wage job to do in addition to the lab position (but definitely not instead of it). Not only will this give an added dimension to your applications, but it could also make at least a small dent in your application fees … as well as offer you a perspective on the world that you might not find elsewhere.

(posted 5/7/2012)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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