Career Advice

How To Manage An Unpaid Internship

The debate over unpaid vs. paid internships seems to be never-ending. Everyone wants to know which one is more worthy of a student’s time.

What’s often left out of the equation in these debates is the fact that many college students have no choice but to take on unpaid internships. Location and industry have a major impact on whether or not a student has access to paid internships, and many find paid opportunities simply aren’t going to come their way.

Another issue arises when students must take on a part-time job, classes, and an unpaid internship. Balancing these three tasks can seem impossible, but keep these four tips in mind to make your semester with an unpaid internship run smoothly:

1.Know paid internships aren’t necessarily the best internships.

Many students think they’ll be assigned more important tasks because of their paid compensation—but this isn’t necessarily the case. Some employers may have no qualms with giving paid interns trivial tasks like fetching coffee—in fact, they may think such tasks are justified simply because the intern is being paid.

2. Remember the goal of your internship.

The real purpose of an internship is to learn about an industry, gain experience working in that field, and apply classroom education to the real world. It’s crucial to remember this so you don’t become discouraged. Although you may not be seeing a financial benefit from the position now, that type of reward will come in the form of an entry-level job after you’ve gained necessary skills and experience. In fact, I was able to skip “entry-level” in terms of pay once I completed my college internships.

3. Find positions with flexibility.

Generally, if an employer isn’t paying you, they should be able to offer you enough flexibility to choose your own schedule. This also goes for part-time jobs, which can complement an unpaid internship. Try tutoring at your school’s writing center or working as a campus tour guide, both of which generally allow you to choose your hours. Visit your school’s career center to see if they can connect you with flexible jobs and internships on and off campus.

4. Do something you love.

This may be the most important aspect of handling an unpaid position. Go after internships you’re truly going to enjoy, at a company you admire. If you’re doing something you like, your tight schedule and empty pockets won’t seem like such a burden.

Unpaid internships are inevitable for some students, and working one with classes and a job is certainly tasking. If you manage your time correctly and remember your goals, unpaid positions are certainly doable without going crazy. Good luck!

Have you ever had to struggle through an unpaid internship? How did you manage it? Share your tips below.