How To Survive An Unpaid Internship On A College Budget

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Unpaid internships are the unofficial rite of passage into a real, grown-up job. You didn’t think you’d get the salaried, full-benefits position without putting in a little grunt work, did you? The purpose of any internship is for you to gain valuable experience and for your employer to see how well you fit in with the office. As a former fashion intern for a major magazine, I can honestly say that the time spent as an intern completely changed my life for the better. The long hours, late nights and sprints across Times Square are some of my fondest memories of undergrad.

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In today’s world, it’s nearly impossible to expect a job offer after graduation without at least one internship on your resume. While paid internships do exist, they’re relatively difficult to get as a college student because 1) they’re rare and 2) most require you to work full-time hours, which cannot be done while enrolled as a full-time student. Hence the necessity of the unpaid internship. These are typically more flexible with hours and more understanding of the need to maintain a healthy school/work/life balance. In fact, most unpaid internships offer school credit instead of an hourly rate (which probably has a little something to do with Condé Nast being sued and all). They’ll also often offer up swag aka fashion freebies. My intern group loved when the fashion closet was cleaned and we were given the samples that the original vendors no longer wanted.

That being said, interning without an income can be extremely stressful. Here are a few tips for living your dream while not going broke on a college budget.


Cut out the unnecessary expenses.

Give up on Starbucks for a while. I know, I know. How are you supposed to live without it? Making your own coffee or taking advantage of your morning meal plan at school will definitely pay off in the long run. Spending $4.00 a day on a coffee adds up before you know it.


Apply for scholarships.

Ed2010.com offers a $1200 trust fund each semester exclusively for magazine interns. Research and look into different organizations and websites and the scholarship opportunities they offer to students. You’re sure to find something that you like and a scholarship means even more money for your summer.


Pack your lunch.

I didn’t even notice until halfway through my internship exactly how much money I’d spent paying for lunch in the city (and I only interned three days a week!). Once I started bringing my lunch, I had a lot more wiggle room in my budget. Though buying groceries can be painful, they definitely help in saving money.


Get a part-time job.

I began tutoring at my local library on the weekends for some extra cash. Look for positions like this near your campus that are willing to work around your schedule and that also give you a chance to catch up on any homework that might be piling up on the nights when you’re too exhausted from interning to even think of opening a book.

It seems daunting but it is beyond worth it. Just think: What would Blair Waldorf do?

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