Home > 2013 > Students

5 Tips to Survive an Unpaid Internship

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Year in and year out, it’s the same story: Young students grasp at the first rungs of the career ladder by accepting temporary positions with an organization, unpaid but promising new skills, rich learning experiences and professional connections. Internships like this have been lauded as an important way to pave a young professional’s way to future endeavors, with about 75% of students at four-year universities graduating having completed at least one internship.

The unpaid internship has seen rapid-fire expansion in a strained economy, as employers increasingly realize the benefits of unpaid labor in exchange for imparting wisdom on their interns. Interns also see rewards later on, as a 2012 survey from Marketplace and the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that employers look favorably upon internship experiences in the hiring process.

But within the past few years, several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of unpaid interns against companies like Fox Searchlight Pictures and the Hearst Corporation, claiming that their internship experiences qualified as employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and they were entitled to compensation. In both cases, rulings came down in favor of the interns, but not overarching as to apply to all internships. This means that unpaid interns are still scrimping and saving as they learn to navigate the professional world. If your internship doesn’t provide a paycheck, here are a few tips to make ends meet on the way to making your dreams come true.

Before accepting an unpaid internship, consider your options.

When deciding to accept an internship, make sure you consider several factors before giving your employer the final yes. You have to make sure it’s feasible before you commit, so create a financial plan. First and foremost, arrange a living situation. Try and stay with family or friends if at all possible, but if you’re headed to new city, look for roommates, sublets and even hostels. Be aware that intern-designated housing is typically slightly more expensive than finding a place on your own, because you’re paying for the convenience and social atmosphere.

Search for funding in other ways.

If your employer can’t pay you, try to find others who will. If you’re a student, possibly even receiving class credit for your experience, check with your financial aid or professional opportunities offices for grants, stipends and scholarships designated for unpaid internships. Don’t forget that if it’s a prestigious internship, it makes your school look pretty good, too.

Budget your expenses.

Housing will most likely be your biggest expense, but that’s not all you’ll pay. Don’t forget to factor in travel and relocation expenses. Flights are expensive, and need to be at the front of your mind. If you have to ship any of your items to yourself in your new city, there’s another sizable cost, and your daily commute will also add up. You need to think about all your expenses, itemize them, and figure out how to cut costs to make your wallet fit your needs.

Be strategic about food.

Keep an eye out for free events or happy hours that serve food, and sign up for area newsletters that may tip you off to deals. Many offices have food on occasion, so offer to clean up and take a bit home for dinner. It’s been said many times, many ways, but sack lunches are, and will always be, far more cost-effective than the corner deli. Grocery shop once a week, coupon and rewards card in hand, and proudly bring your Tupperware to the conference room. It’s healthier, more economical and eco-friendly.

Use your free time wisely.

If your internship is in compliance with the law, you should have enough free time outside the work day to get a few things done. If you’re so inclined, look for a part-time job that will supplement your non-income. Tutoring and nannying provide great off-hours employment, while contract work in your field boosts experience, or serving at a restaurant may score you a free meal on your break. If you can’t find a part-time gig, socialize in ways that won’t hurt your bottom line. Hang out with other unpaid interns for low-cost fun like free museums or potluck dinners. You can make it work and have fun, too.

Unpaid internships are tough, but they can be an important resource to teach you professional lessons you just can’t get anywhere else. Perhaps one day, these lawsuits and current labor laws will shift towards compensating young upstarts, but if your payment is experience, make the most of it while you can.

Image: Ingram Publishing

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team