Should Architecture Students and Interns Work for Free? Should You Get Paid for Your Work?

It’s tough finding an architecture internship and difficult getting experience as a student.

This often forces students to work for free.

But, should you work for free? Or should you get paid for your hard work?

Let’s find out.

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Should Architectural Interns and Students Work for Free?

Or, Should You Get Paid?

It’s always tough finding a job as an intern or to get some experience working in an architecture practice. It can be quite intimidating walking into a firm or calling over the phone to ask for some work experience.

A lot of architects are busy people and can come across as blunt, harsh or evil to some degree. Students and interns in result feel inferior and are often forced to think that they don’t have much value to offer, and have to work for free.


But saying that, employees get paid for 2 things. Their skills and the value they bring to their table in that sense, but also their time.

And that’s something that students and interns are providing. That’s something that you can offer.

Your time.

Now saying this, this doesn’t mean you should get paid a lot. You don’t have the same skills as an architect, so it’s probably not a great idea to walk into a practice demanding a super high pay.

The wage will more than likely be very little. And that should be fine. Let me explain a bit later.


But let’s talk about, when should you work for free?

For me, I wouldn’t ask for pay if I’m just doing work experience for a week or 2. Some people might disagree and say ‘don’t work at all if you’re not getting paid”.

My take is that, If you’re working in an architecture firm as a student or intern, you’re being taken under a professionals wing, a mentor, to train and develop you. That’s worth more than money.

If this is a business that takes you on, that business is paying someone for their time to train you.

If you’re working 1 on 1 with someone, that persons time is costing the business money. Whether they’re getting paid $30 an hour or $150 an hour, they’re taking the time to train and teach you when they could be spending their time on the business and working on their own projects. So that’s something to consider that a lot of students often miss.

If you’re going into a firm for 2 weeks of experience, I personally wouldn’t ask for any pay. But that doesn’t mean you should work for free, forever.

What I would consider doing though, is showing that you are providing value to the business in those 2 weeks, take on those shitty jobs and put in the hard work to make a difference at the place where you’re working. If you’re doing that and you’re putting in 110%. You’re enthusiastic and willing to learn and take on anything. At the end of the 2 weeks, that business will want to keep you. In that moment, you will have built enough leverage to negotiate a pay.

If you are a good worker, you’re going to have leverage to negotiate more pay. If you just put in the bare minimum to get by, that’s when you earn minimum wage, or they ask you to not come back.


If you’re doing a 6-month internship, that’s another story. Any contractual work should be paid. But, considering you aren’t offering much to the table, that pay is more than likely going to be minimum wage. And that’s ok. You are gaining more than you are giving. We need to remember it’s costing the business a lot of money to develop you. You’re gaining new skills and exploring new experiences and you should always be grateful to whoever takes you on for that.


My rule of thumb is that any sort of work should be mutually beneficial to both you and the employer.

If you find the work you’re doing becomes a sense of slavery and you’re not getting anything out of it – whether it be personal development or pay – you’re being taken advantage of. That’s not necessarily a place you want to work at.

Likewise, if the employer finds that you’re taking up more time and resources than you are providing, and you lack motivation or enthusiasm, you’re probably not the best fit for their team either.

It needs to be a mutually beneficial agreement between the two of you, where both parties equally give and equally gain.