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Maybe You Can Get Paid for an Unpaid Internship

The internship may not pay, but there are other ways to support yourself while you're working!

Peter Vogt

March 19, 2009

Maybe You Can Get Paid for an Unpaid Internship

The idealist in you wants to take that great but unpaid internship you heard about the other day. After all, it will give you critical experience in your chosen career field that will help you land a job after graduation. But the realist in you rightly argues, "How are you going to pay your bills?"

The unpaid internship dilemma is one thousands of college students face each year. Sadly, many students reluctantly pass on such internships, unaware of potential ways to get around the financial obstacles involved.

Is a lack of funding standing between you and the unpaid internship you really want? If so, look into these possible strategies for overcoming the no-money no-internship dilemma.

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See If Your School Offers Grants for Unpaid Internships.

Many colleges and universities around the US have established special programs offering funding to students who want to pursue unpaid work experiences. At Barnard College, for example, alumni-sponsored internship grants are available for anywhere from $500 to $2,500. Similarly, the University of Evansville in Indiana offers Internship Subsidy Grants of up to $650. To see if your school has a similar program, set up an appointment with a career counselor or financial aid advisor.

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Check Out Published Resources on Individual Grants, Scholarships and Fellowships.

Organizations around the US and world offer special programs that will help you pay for educational experiences relating closely to your career. Another good source is the book Foundation Grants to Individuals, published by the New York City-based Foundation Center.

Consider the Bank of Mom and Dad.

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Your parents (or other relatives) might be willing to help you out financially, either by giving you money outright or loaning it to you, especially if they see the money as an investment that benefits both of you. From their perspective, the payoff usually means you won't be living back under their roof someday, jobless and miserable.

Get Extra Financial Aid.

While you may not exactly like the idea of adding to what may be an already huge future debt load, getting extra financial aid so that you can take an unpaid internship is another possible option. If you conclude that the internship you want offers you a reasonable chance of gaining valuable experience, and perhaps even a future job, then getting extra financial aid may be a calculated risk worth taking. Talk the idea over with a financial aid advisor to learn about all of the potential pros and cons.

Get a Part-Time, Paying Job, or Another If You Already Have One.

The short-term impact of this approach can be, to say the least, exhausting. So proceed with caution. But again, if you conclude that the internship you want merits some sacrifice on your part, maybe an extra part-time job is worth the hours you won’t be able to devote to your schoolwork and social life.

An unpaid internship certainly isn’t the best work scenario you’ll ever pursue. But it can and often does lead to much bigger and better things: relevant work experience, important personal contacts in your chosen field and, often, a full-time, paying position with either the same organization or another one. So don’t let an internship’s lack of funding stop you, at least not without some research on your part. With just a little digging, you may well find a way to make that unpaid internship pay off after all — in more ways than one.

This article originally appeared on

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