Internships are an essential part of a college education. They allow students to test out their skills and to dip their toes into a future career. They can also help confirm interest in one field. Or they can help redirect attention to a new field.

During my time in college, I was fortunate to have completed four summer internships. For two summers, I worked as an engineer for General Motors. I worked at Westinghouse. And, for one semester, I taught photography at a Boys and Girls Club.

These internships helped me learn what I liked and didn’t like about companies. They helped me learn what I was good at. And they built up my resume so that I could compete for better jobs when I graduated. As an engineering student, I had paid internships. Not only did I receive a respectable salary, but I also received relocation assistance. 

However, when I moved on to business school, I wasn’t so lucky. As an MBA student, an internship is essential, but most are unpaid. And because I couldn’t afford to work for free, I had to forego an internship and opted to graduate early instead. Although not having an internship didn’t affect my career success, having one would have helped me more easily transition from engineering into the business world. 

Although internships have been significantly cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one bright spot: Most internships are virtual. This means a student doesn’t need to spend money to relocate to the city where the internship is located. They can work for companies anywhere. 

So despite the possibility of unpaid internships, the new virtual reality we’re all working in is helping to level the playing field. If you’re thinking of hiring an intern, there’s no better time. And paying students for their work can help them pave their way to a future career or even a shot at your job one day. 

— Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at