How To Survive An Unpaid Internship

Photo by Andrea Navarro

By now we’re all aware about how important and beneficial internships are to our futures. They provide hands-on work experience and can help us determine if the fields we’re interested in are really the right ones for us. However, scoring the internship of your dreams might come with a catch and a lot of the time that catch is that it’s an unpaid position. If an internship is unpaid chances are that you also have to pay to receive academic credit. Yes that’s right, a lot of the time we have to pay to work for free. No worries though, there are still some ways to make the best of your internship and still enjoy your free time while not receiving a check for your work.

Create a budget

Budgeting isn’t easy, but it’s definitely not impossible. Write down exactly how much money you’ll need for rent, commuting, food, and social expenses. You can even consider bringing your own lunch to work and walking to your internship if possible. These adjustments may seem small, but spending $10 on a meal everyday will add up as will buses, trains, and/or Uber rides. When it comes to your social life, look out for happy hour specials or restaurant coupons so that there’s still time to enjoy with your new colleagues and friends.

Live at home

If you really don’t think you can afford to move to another state for an internship, then consider focusing your job search on internships that are local to your hometown. You can also look for positions near the homes of other relatives so that you don’t have to worry about rent expenses. Rent would be where a large percentage of your money would go to and if it’s possible to not have to worry about it, definitely take that into consideration.

Work on the side

Internships usually don’t require a full-time commitment, especially if they’re unpaid. Getting a part-time job is your best option for earning some extra cash on the side. Many retailers offer seasonal positions that would only require working throughout the duration of an internship, which leaves room for flexibility.

Apply for grants and scholarships

Meet with your school’s internship coordinator or career services to discuss possible scholarship and grant opportunities that can help you earn some money for your internship. Penn State’s College of Communications offers an Endowment Fund every semester for hundreds of students who have unpaid internships. Grants like this can really help ease the financial stress that unpaid internships put upon us.

Negotiate food and travel expenses

While a lot of positions in more competitive fields offer only unpaid positions, sometimes they’ll consider paying for food and traveling expenses. If you need to travel a lot to get to your job, talk with your employer to see if you can work something out. A lot of companies also offer free lunches or daily lunch stipends, but if yours doesn’t see if you can work something out with your boss. Many internships take place in bigger cities which often means having bigger expenses as well, so your boss should understand the struggle.


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