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)