Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

The Expense of Unpaid Internships

Hi Andy,


I’m a junior that has landed an unpaid internship with a television network in New York City this summer.  My employer tells me that I have to earn academic credit for the internship.  This would be the opportunity of a lifetime, but it’s really expensive to live in New York and I’m not being paid.  Can you help?


A hopeful NYC intern

Dear hopeful NYC intern,

Several students have raised this question during the spring semester so I asked one of our team members, Patrick Sullivan for his sage advice. His wisdom is captured below…

Aside from two Wake Forest endowments that offer stipends for unpaid entrepreneurial activities, there is very little money available to fund unpaid internships.  Given this reality, here are a few options to consider:

1.  Part-time internship/Part-time work – In many cases employers offering unpaid internships will be flexible in their scheduling because they recognize the costs you will incur.  Consider interning part–time to build professional experience while working part–time in a summer job to earn the money you need for your expenses.  Check out sites like Craigslist or Snagajob to identify part-time jobs in New York City.

If your schedule allows, you could also consider working in a temporary job before or after your internship to earn more money.

2.  Limit your housing costs – Living in New York City is expensive, without a doubt.  In addition to the options available through organizations like Educational Housing Services many college dormitories are rented out to interns during the summer.  In New York City, dormitory housing at NYU and Columbia offers great, inexpensive options for summer interns.

3.  Limit the cost of earning credit – You can also limit the cost of earning credit through Wake Forest.  If your employer requires you to earn credit during the summer, the least expensive option available is Business 181, a 1-credit class that any student, regardless of major, can take.  You can contact Dean Betsy Hoppe in the Schools of Business for more information.

If your employer does not require you to earn credit during the summer, you can arrange an independent study project, based on your internship experience, to be completed in the fall of 2011.  By enrolling and receiving your credit in the fall, your tuition costs will be absorbed into full-time tuition and you would not have to pay summer school tuition.

If you are creative and consider these suggestions, you can certainly manage your costs effectively.  While unpaid summer internships do present challenges, the skills and experience you gain are critical for your personal and career development.

Category: Job/Internship Search, On the Job Tips