College internships are a popular option—and often required at some schools—for students who want to maximize their experiential learning. Internships also offer lucrative employment opportunities beyond graduation. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an average of 66.4% of eligible interns receive full-time employment offers after graduating. But not all internships are paid, and some require extensive hours, making it hard to make time for paid work. Here’s what you should know about internships and how they impact your financial success during and after your college years.
Not all internships are created equal
Although internships offer many benefits—like networking with professionals in your field and access to future career opportunities—not all internships are the same. Some internships offer college credit, which helps students save money by fulfilling a degree course requirement through an internship program. However, some may offer that credit in lieu of compensation, which can make them tricky for students with financial restrictions. According to a recent survey, 47% of unpaid interns took on an average debt of $2,500 or more during their internship.
Luckily, nearly 61% of internships are paid, according to NACE, so you may be able to find one that meets your needs. Contact your major’s department or your college career center to look for opportunities. Also speak with professors and tell them you’re looking for a paid internship, as they might know of an opportunity in their network. You can also browse websites like WayUp and InternMatch to learn more about paid internships near you.
How to minimize debt while working your internship
Because unpaid internships lack compensation, they generally have a smaller candidate pool to compete against. If you’re in a competitive field or limited to a small pool of internship opportunities, unpaid may be your only option. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to a summer or academic year of money troubles. Here are some tips to help you manage the financial stress of an unpaid internship.
1. Financially plan ahead
Whether you’re looking for a short- or long-term internship, it’s always wise to plan your finances ahead of time. For example, if you’re looking for a summer internship, consider reducing your discretionary expenses during the preceding spring semester. This will give you a financial cushion to fall back on if you can’t earn a wage while interning.
2. Get a flexible part-time job or find a side hustle
Juggling a full-time academic course load plus an internship and a paid part-time job all at once can quickly lead to burnout. If you feel like it’s manageable, working a part-time job or starting a side hustle while you’re taking classes can help you avoid debt. To avoid overwhelming yourself, strategically time your part-time job depending on when you’ll start your new internship program. For example, if your internship takes place during the fall semester, you can ramp up part-time paid employment hours in the months leading up to your program (like over the summer). Conversely, if you’re participating in a summer internship, you can take on a part-time job during the academic year to save up for any unpaid months.
3. Consider a work-study program
Another option to reduce debt during an internship is leveraging work-study programs at your college. According to a Sallie Mae report, the average work-study student earns $1,800. Work-study programs typically are offered through your financial aid award package. These opportunities are available on or off campus and require students to work a specific number of hours per week.
4. Avoid raising your student loan amount
If possible, try not to increase your student loan amount to make up for an unpaid internship. The more you borrow, the more you’ll have to pay when you factor in student loan interest. For example, let’s say you raised your student loan amount from $2,000 to $4,500 because you have an unpaid internship. When it’s time to repay your loan over the standard 10-year plan at a 4% rate and $50 monthly payments, you’ll end up paying $859 in interest alone. That’s significantly more debt compared to the $150 in total interest on a $2,000 loan amount.
Getting an internship is a great opportunity to enhance your skill set and get a foot in the door to start your career. However, financial stability during your internship should always be a consideration. Throughout this process, be mindful of the true cost of an internship as it relates to your student debt.
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