How to Stay Financially Well Off During an Unpaid Internship
Your college years have given you knowledge, a new social circle, and a taste of adulthood. With graduation and employment on the horizon, you may be interviewing for internships in your chosen career and have your sights set on finding the perfect match.
But once you find your dream internship, what do you do if it's unpaid and only offers non-tuition credit? How can you stay financially well off in order to cover living expenses as well as your upcoming student loan payments?
Consider these options to help maximize the financial benefits of your unpaid internship.
Maximize Your Hours
If the internship offers mentors, networking, job shadowing, or career building that will benefit your long-term goals, dive in and focus on learning as much as possible. Pitch in to help your colleagues whenever you can. The contacts and connections you create could lead to opportunities for internal job postings. If you're hesitant about taking the internship, ask your college advisor what experiences former interns have shared with them.
After taking a realistic look at your budget - including your living expenses, paying off debts and preparing for sudden expenses (such as a car repair or laptop crash) - you may decide that you need a source of income to make your day-to-day work.
Look for a fun part-time job with flexible hours that won't interfere with your studies. Keep in mind, your internship is short-term, and you may only see the rewards post-graduation. One university survey found that 57 percent of companies create internship programs to find talented full-time employees.
Keep Searching for an Internship that Pays
If, after a bit of number crunching, you decide an unpaid internship won't work for you, refocus your efforts on finding a paid internship or a part-time job within your field. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the hourly wage for interns of all degree levels increased 3.7 percent in 2018 to $18.73.
Whether you commit to an unpaid internship or not, know that you'll still have the opportunity to prove yourself in a stimulating work environment where you may find yourself working in the future. And even if the internship doesn't lead to a job, it can still provide you with a strong letter of recommendation or referral. Talk to your advisor, fellow students, and graduates to find out how their internship experience has made a difference in their daily work life. Armed with your experiences, you'll be perfectly poised to be able to mentor future students facing a similar dilemma.