Scholarships and Other Ways to Afford Unpaid Internships

Intern working in laboratory
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Finding the perfect internship is a daunting proposition that many college students must tackle. The prospect becomes even more challenging when an organization offering an attractive position insists that the internship must be done for credit. Since many students who do an internship for credit over the summer still often have to pay college tuition, taking an unpaid internship can be quite costly. 

It’s important for students to research the different options to see if taking an unpaid internship is the best course of action. It’s worth asking if the organization will waive the requirement, or seeing if the college can offer one or two credits for an internship, which can provide substantial savings. Internships performed during different parts of the year such as the fall or spring semesters can also save money, as they are usually rolled in with the semester and don't require any additional costs.

If a lack of financial resources is holding you back from applying for what you see as the perfect internship, take a look at some of the strategies listed below to see if you are able to come up with a solution. The key is not to give up prior to exploring all options. Recently more organizations are offering at least a modest stipend in order to get the most talented students to apply. 

Paid Vs. Unpaid Internships

The majority of paid internships are usually found in the business world. Students interested in finance (investment and commercial banking, venture capital, accounting), information technology, marketing and sales, and entertainment will often land the best paid internships.

Many sales positions consist mainly of cold-calling, which often pays based on a percentage of results. That means a sales internship may not hold the financial rewards that are listed in the internship description.

Unpaid internships can be valuable for those students who can afford to do them. Gaining the relevant skills required for getting hired in the field along with making connections with professionals in the field can be invaluable. It is important to base your decision on not doing an unpaid internship more on financial need than on the principle that you refuse to work for nothing.

Some Colleges Have Funded Internship Programs

Many colleges and universities have started programs in order to help students who want to pursue an unpaid internship. Several years ago, one small liberal arts college began to offer a number of funded internships. Each student received $2500 to help defray costs and expenses over the summer.

The goal of these internships was to provide access to all students to be able to get experience in their field of interest, especially if they didn’t have the financial resources to complete an unpaid internship. 

Check with the Career Services Office at your College to see if they have a similar program and, if not, you may recommend that they looking into ways that they could fund several internships just to get started. Many internships are funded by alumni, parents, and friends of the College.

Individual Grants, Scholarships, and Fellowships

There are many organizations and foundations that provide grants for students seeking to gain relevant work experience by completing an internship in their field of study while they are in college. Scholarships are awarded to many individuals by type based on personal experience and professional pursuits. 

These scholarships are often awarded for some unique attribute or interest of the student, and there are thousands of unique opportunities that exist. For example, Green Scholarships are awarded to students interested in protecting the environment, who want to gain experience in the field, or who actually plan on working on an environmental project during college or immediately upon graduation.

Financial Aid Options

You may also apply for additional financial aid if you have reason to believe that you will need to do an unpaid internship in order to gain the experience you will need to get hired. This is not the ideal situation and should be explored if you feel there are no other options. 

Apply for a Part-time Job

Many students will combine a part-time job with an unpaid internship. Since many internships can be done part-time, coupling that with a part-time job may not be such a bad idea. Combining a job with an internship can provide relevant experience in your chosen field along with some money to help pay for some of your college costs and other incidentals.