How To Succeed In An Unpaid Internship Lifestyle

If there is one thing I know all too well, it's living the unpaid internship lifestyle. For the past four years I have struggled with (and without) part-time jobs to try and maintain some sort of income while most of my time is spent at my unpaid internship, but the dollars never held up in my bank account and it soon became very difficult to balance time between work, school, and play. I'm not going to lie, though, even when you finally get into the swing of things and you've finally found balance, working for credit is not easy. College life is far from cheap as is, so using your free time working without pay instead of as a Starbucks barista for +/- $10 an hour is really tricky.

Don't be afraid to ask for a stipend.

Most internships say on the application if they will offer a daily stipend, but very few (if any) say they will not. Because they don't explicitly say "No stipend offered," you never know the possibilities until you ask.

This is something, of course, that should wait until after you are already offered the internship and are accepting the position. When you receive the offer, it is completely appropriate to ask if there is any way you can be compensated for travel at the end of each month. Absolute worst case scenario?

You: "Thank you so much for this wonderful offer. As I know the internship is unpaid, I was wondering if you could consider a stipend for my travels?"

Employer: "No."

As ridiculous as this sounds, that's literally the worst case scenario. They say no and you thank them for their time, satisfied that you at least made the effort to avoid losing money.

With that said, however, very few employees will actually give you a flat out "no." Most will actually talk to HR (or whatever department is in charge of budgeting) in order to work something out. Trust me, even the worst case scenario is better than not asking at all!

Take the cheap route.

Regardless of whether or not you have a stipend, you should always take the cheapest route. An employer will notice if your travel receipts to and from work at the end of each month are from the most expensive private limousine service, I hate to say it.

Take one mode of transportation and stick to it unless something comes up (i.e. bad weather or delays). This consistency will not only make your employers happy if they're giving you a stipend, but it will most likely get you to the office at the same time each day if you continue the same routine.

The cheapest route is especially important if you're paying for travel without the help of a stipend. Look for all the different ways to get to your office and choose the least expensive one. Walking and biking are options? Do it! You'll save money and stay in shape.

Oh, and another thing— many schools offer free transportation options through the Career Services office. Check with them to see if you are entitled to these benefits since you're most likely receiving credit through them anyway!

Balance your schedule.

The reason why this tip is so important is because you never want to overwork yourself and lose site of what the experience is supposed to be about. Internships will help you learn what you like and often what you don't like about an industry or department and it's important not to stress too much. In the end, your priority is school and employers will understand that, especially if they aren't paying you.

Take the time out at the beginning of each semester to plan what your weekly schedules will look like, leaving room for other important things like studying and having "you" time.

Love what you do.

If you're not getting paid and you don't love what you're doing, the struggle will be so real. It's difficult enough to not have money when you're excited about the things you are doing let alone not enjoying it. If there is something you don't like about an internship or something you were promised in the interview, let your boss know that you're still interested in getting it done.

Have a project in mind that you've been hoping to launch? Ask someone about how to make it happen! Take initiative. Bosses love seeing interns take initiative and even if the internship isn't exactly what you want to do when you graduate, make the best of it and learn. Learning is the key to any internship, even if it means making your own opportunities and loving them.

Find a side gig.

This is probably something I do not have to tell you, but just in case, you may want to consider keeping some time open in your schedule to get a part-time job. I believe all campuses have an office for student employment, which is excellent because these jobs are extremely flexible and often work around your schedule instead of the other way around.

Not interested in staying on campus? That's okay! Babysitting is always an option that can even be done only on the weekends! Keep an eye out for job boards and listings at school and online to make sure you have many options because you never know what you'll find. And who knows, maybe you can make a career out of whatever it is...