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Ways You Can Afford to do an Unpaid Internship

Strategies & Techniques for Finding Money to do an Unpaid Internship


The frustration of unpaid internships:

You’ve just found the perfect internship that you know will provide just the right experience that you need to get a job in your chosen field after graduation. You have a place to stay and the internship offers a chance to get hands-on experience working with some very knowledgeable and well-respected professionals in the field. It all sounds perfect except for one thing, the internship listing you found says that the internship is unpaid. Since you know there is no way that you could even consider applying for an internship that is unpaid since it is essential that you make money over the summer to help defray some of the costs of college while making a little spending money to use over the summer and once you return to college.

The frustration of finding the perfect internship is a dilemma that many college students face. To make matters worse, the dilemma of the unpaid internship as well as those organizations that say the internship must be done for credit are unforeseen obstacles that many students weren’t aware of prior to looking for an internship. Students who do an internship for credit over the summer often have to pay college tuition in order to receive college credit. Consequently, taking an unpaid internship, especially if it’s an internship for credit, can become quite costly for students. It’s important for you to research your options to see if taking an unpaid internship is the best course of action. Doing an internship for credit over the summer can be costly as well so you might want to see if the organization will waive the requirement or if your college offers 1 or 2 credit for an internship which can provide substantial savings. Internships during fall or spring semester usually are rolled in with the semester and don't require any additional costs.

If a lack of financial resources is holding you back from applying for what you see as the perfect internship, take a look at some of the strategies listed below to see if you are able to come up with a solution. The key is not to give up prior to exploring all options.

Paid vs. Unpaid Internships:

The majority of paid internships are usually found in the business world. Students interested in finance (investment and commercial banking, venture capital, accounting), information technology, marketing and sales, and entertainment will often get the best paid internships. Keep in mind that many sales positions consist mainly of cold calling of which salary is based on percentage of results, a multi-level marketing or sales internship may not hold the financial rewards that are listed in the internship description.

Recently more organizations are offering at least a modest stipend in order to get the most talented students to apply. Unpaid internships can be valuable for those students who can afford to do them. Gaining the relevant skills required for getting hired in the field along with making connections with professionals in the field can be invaluable. It is important to base your decision on not doing an unpaid internship more on financial need than on the principle that you refuse to work for nothing.

  1. Does your College have a funded internship program?

    Many colleges and universities have started programs in order to help students who want to pursue an unpaid internship. Several years ago the small liberal arts college where I work began to offer a number of funded internships. Each student receives $2500 to help defray costs and expenses over the summer. The goal of these internships was to provide access to all students to be able to get experience in their field of interest especially if they didn’t have the financial resources to complete an unpaid internship. The Program has grown exponentially over the past three years and we are looking to expand it even further in the future. It has become a major endeavor of the College since providing a quality education for all students with equal access to resources is an important part of the College’s Mission.

    Check with the Career Services Office at your College to see if they have a similar program and, if not, you may recommend that they looking into ways that they could fund several internships just to get started. Many internships are funded by alumni, parents, and friends of the College.

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