When You’re Too Broke to Intern: Paid vs Unpaid Internships

When You’re Too Broke to Intern: Paid vs Unpaid Internships

As a college student you probably need more money. Tuition, room & board, books, Uber, Amazon… everything starts to add up. The idea of doing an unpaid internship does not make anyone excited. You know you should do an internship of some sort before you graduate, but what do you do when you’re broke and offered an unpaid internship? An unpaid internship is better than no internship, but you have to figure out if it is worth it for you.

 

via GIPHY

I did eight internships in college. Some of them paid, some not. I was a broke college student too, but I saw opportunity in each of the unpaid positions I took and I was hungry to build my resume. I didn’t just take any unpaid internship that came my way. It had to enhance what I was learning in class, and I still had to be able to afford to work for no paycheck. The experiences on my resume when I graduated didn’t say “paid or unpaid,” they just demonstrated how prepared I was to start my career.

The best way to avoid having to take an unpaid internship is to find a paid internship. Download my free Internship Manual Toolkit so that you can get on the path to finding your dream gig.  If the best opportunity you find is unpaid, here are four strategies I’ve used to make it through the unpaid periods.

Work a Job While You Intern

During my unpaid internships, I always worked at least one additional part-time job. If you are interning over the summer, that is a much easier thing to do. If your summer internship is full-time, that leaves you weekends and some evenings to work a job. It doesn’t leave you as much time for fun and socializing but, if you are about trying to gain experiences and earn some income, then it is the trade off you make.

In my senior year, while doing an unpaid internship with the New York State Power Authority, I also worked part-time at the public affairs office on campus at SUNY Oswego. I was able to do this through careful planning and having select days for each obligation. In today’s global economy, you can seek out jobs online that will make time management less hectic. If your internship allows you to do real world projects and build a portfolio, you will have work to show off and start freelancing through sites like fivver.com.



Transportation Stipend

If the internship requires transportation that you can’t afford, have a conversation with the manager about helping with the cost of transportation. If the company is on a bus route or metro/subway line, they might be able to assist you by providing a bus pass or metro/subway card. If you have to drive a long way, ask for a gas card. In one of my internships I was asked to drive to a location that was over 20 miles one-way. Even though that internships was already paid, I told them the expenses for gas would keep me from being able to do it. They offered to let me use their gas card for free fill ups every week. I happily went to work.

Negotiate the Hours

paid vs unpaid internAsk if you can work fewer hours so that you can make some money at a part-time job. Sophomore year I had an unpaid spring semester internship for academic credit with a AAA baseball team. Interns where offered the opportunity to stay with the team through the summer as full-time interns, but still unpaid. 

At the time, my career goal was to work in public relations for a pro sports team so it was important for me to stay connected to the sports world for as long as possible. Financially, it just wasn’t going to work for me to be a full-time unpaid intern. I’d already proven myself as a solid intern over the spring, so I approached my manager and asked for a schedule that would allow me to only work on game-day. That modification to part-time allowed me to work two part-time jobs in addition to my internship.

Is Being Unpaid Worth It

Think about what you will get out of the internship. Some benefits include:

    • Building your portfolio
    • Networking
    • Job prospects
    • College credit
    • Finding a Mentor

Will doing the internship make you more competitive for getting a job when you graduate? Will the internship make you more attractive for highly paid internships in the future? Think beyond the immediate moment to the longer term benefit of taking the unpaid gig. Ask a lot of questions and ask about the outcome of previous interns that have worked there. Not all internships (paid or unpaid) are created equal. Do your research and check off the list of things that are true benefits. Giving up 40+ unpaid hours for experience may not be worth it if you could find a great fulfilling opportunity that only takes up half the time, and still allows you to work elsewhere and make some money.

Fair vs Unfair

I believe that interns contribute to the workplace and should be compensated. Seek balance. Don’t let yourself be taken complete advantage of. If you are sent out into the field with no training, never meet with your manager, seem to be there only for the purpose of making the boss money, get no instruction, and feel like it is complete waste of your time, then let it go. Your time is valuable too.

Recent lawsuits  have led to changes by many companies who now pay their interns. Some companies hold fast to the idea that what the student is getting in terms of experience is more important than money. While experience can not always be measured in monetary gain, unpaid internships offer an advantage to students that can afford to do them.

College costs continue to rise, just as the cost of living keeps going up. For interns who have family support and financial means, a paid internship isn’t something they have to think twice about doing. For the intern who provides family support, an unpaid internship is just another hurdle in the long line of issues already stacked against them. Interning with the promise of experience that may lead to a job in the future, doesn’t pay the bills when they are due.

I never had a full-time unpaid internship because I just couldn’t afford it. That sadly kept me from being able to take advantage of other internships that I might have been able to get. At the end of my college career however, eight internships later, I did not have trouble finding a job. If that one shiny bright company isn’t willing to pay you, and you can’t afford the time away from work, look harder and find a better opportunity. I actually created an internship one day out of a random encounter. It is detailed in my book, The Internship Manual: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Internship of Your Dreams.

Internships matter. Make it your business to do multiple internships before you graduate so that you are in the best position to launch your career. I am an advocate of completing at least four internships before graduating. Internship are not just about making money, it is about starting the process of shaping your career, learning more about yourself, adding to your skills and getting ready for the real world work force. Start the path to get your dream internship and it might lead to your dream job. 

Get In Formation: Beyonce Launches Scholarship for Young Women

Get In Formation: Beyonce Launches Scholarship for Young Women





On the one year anniversary of the release of the visual album, Lemonade, Beyonce’ has announced the creation of the Formation Scholars award. According to her website, the Formation Scholarship program is designed “to encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious and confident.”

Recipients must be studying creative arts, music, literature or African-American studies. Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, the scholarship will be awarded to an incoming or current undergraduate or graduate student at one of the following four participating institutions:

Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA)
Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
Parsons School of Design (New York City)
Spelman College (Atlanta, GA)

Application and deadline information is available from each participating institution. Information regarding amounts has not yet been released.

Scholarships on Your Radar

If you are in the process of applying to college or a current college student, this needs to be on your radar. With the rising costs of attending college, any amount of scholarship money can help you keep down the student loan debt.

In addition to this opportunity, keep on the look out for small and large scholarship available from community organizations, a parent’s employer, civic organizations, fraternities or sororities, churches, banks, credit unions and so many other places. Searching for scholarships should be a daily activity for both incoming and currently enrolled college students.

For scholarship search tips, visit The College Money Maze and The Ultimate Scholarship Guide for help.




Free Tuition Has Me in a New York State of Mind

Free Tuition Has Me in a New York State of Mind




Recently New York state passed a law that will allow residents to attend a public college tuition free. Starting in the fall of 2018, the Excelsior Scholarship will give families that make $100,000 or less free tuition at a State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) institution. The plan will phase in over the next three years finally reaching an income cap of $125,000 per year.

This historic deal is one that can change the lives of a generation of college bound students. It could change your life. To say that this can put upcoming college students in a position for future financial and professional success is an understatement.

I graduated from two SUNY institutions, the State University of New York at Oswego and Monroe Community College. I would have loved to have been the recipient of this type of opportunity. I also worked for SUNY College at Brockport for about two years in undergraduate admissions. My career in college admissions and career placement spans 17 years, 6 colleges and 400 placed interns. 

Any student and family that can take advantage of this opportunity should do so without hesitation.

In my humble opinion, a SUNY education is a best buy that can stack up against any other in this country. Any student and family that can take advantage of this opportunity should do so without hesitation. I am however, admittedly biased.

Free Tuition Excelsior Scholarship

Let us not forget the free tuition does not mean open admission. If you are applying to 4-year degree granting institution you still need to apply and get in. Each campus sets their own admissions requirements.

Once enrolled, students must take at least 30 credit hours per year and maintain an acceptable grade point average. After completing their degree, graduates will be required to remain in New York state for however long it took them to complete their degree. So, if you who graduate in four years you would be required to work in New York state for four years.

Those who choose to relocate out of New York will have their scholarship converted into loans. There are some hardship exemptions for graduate school and military service.

Most people don’t know that nearly 60% of college students graduate in six years. Part of the reason it can take so long is that many students fail to take the proper number of credits per year. Requiring 30 credit hours per year keep students on track to graduate in four years or two years at a community college.

Getting in and out in two or four years is vitally important. Each extra year costs you time and money. In addition to four years of class work, you should also spend that time learning the value of networking, internships, extracurricular activities and how to find a job. Earning a degree is one thing, but finding and landing the dream job is another. 

Debt Free College is a Game Changer

Here is where it gets good. SUNY tuition is $6,470 at four-year schools and $4,370 at community colleges. That is already a very affordable option as it relates to a college education. Why is this a game changer?

The class of 2016 has on average $37k in student loan debt. For a student who takes advantage of attending a four-year school, that is a savings of $25,880. Taking advantage of this program means that a New York state resident could complete college debt free. You could complete college debt free. A debt free college education. Imagine that!

If you are already attending another school and have two or three years left, I would strongly consider transferring to a public school. Consider the money you could save.

The Excelsior Scholarship is a “last-dollar” grant. That means that the scholarship will be applied only after any Pell Grant and New York state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) money is awarded. As a result, the amount each student gets in funds will vary.

The maximum Pell grant for 2017-2018 will be $5,920. Low-income students getting already receiving a max Pell grant and aid from TAP will not likely not benefit from this program. Families in the middle income bracket who are not Pell eligible or TAP eligible will benefit most.

The Tale of Two Graduates

Student 2 who graduates with no debt, could instead choose to invest that same $392 for 10 years at a 5% rate of return and end up with $61,000.

Imagine for a moment two recent college grads with the same degree with the same starting salary of $45,000 per year. Student 1 graduates with $37,000 in student loan debt, while student 2 finishes college debt free.

Student 1 starts life with a student loan payment of $392 per month for 10 years. At the end of those 120 payments at a 5% interest rate, that would be over $47,000 paid back.

Student 2 who graduates with no debt, could instead choose to invest that same $392 for 10 years at a 5% rate of return and end up with $61,000. Who would you rather be? 

If student 2 chooses to buy older cars and avoid car notes and credit card debt, that monthly investment of $392 could easily be doubled. Even if they chose to not invest it, an extra $400 per month can be the difference between living in your parents basement versus moving out.

In Rochester, NY you can buy a house in the city for as little as $75,000. With no student loan payment, in less than two years you could have a down payment on a house. Student 1 who graduates debt free can move quicker to home ownership, save more towards retirement and start investing to take advantage of compounding interest. They could also just have more money to blow on some great vacations and other life experiences!

Not a Perfect Solution

The Excelsior scholarship does not include room and board which varies from campus to campus at an average of $15,000. If you want to live on campus, you have to pay those costs out of pocket or with financial aid. Most college students dream of living on campus and having the complete “college experience”. While yes, college does provide a time of personal growth, learning and exploration the bigger picture is about becoming employable.

The main reason you go to college is to get a job, or more specifically, have a career.

While living on campus is what everyone dreams about when they think of college, taking on debt to do it may not make it worth the “fun”. The memories and experiences will always be with you, but unfortunately, the debt sticks around for a long time too. 

For the students and families who are smart enough to forgo the need to live on campus in return for the long term gain, this plan is a no brainer.

Also, don’t buy into the hype that private automatically means better. In addition to my Bachelor’s degree, I also earned my Master’s from a public school. To round out my experiences, I worked in college admissions for five private liberal arts colleges and one public institution. Taking it a step further, I’ve recruited students from every corner of the United States when placing interns with major companies like ESPN, HBO, Showtime, AMC Networks, the NBA and others. Your success is about you, not the name of the school on the diploma. 

Brighter Future

Making wise academic and financial decisions is the key to a brighter future.

There are multiple pieces to the puzzle of how a student can be successful during and after college. Getting this gift of debt free tuition does no good if you go out and rack up $20,000 in credit card debt and a $32,000 new car. Making wise academic and financial decisions is the key to a brighter future.

Graduating debt free means the financial freedom and flexibility to choose a rewarding career. A graduate who desires to work at a lower paying non-profit organization can do that, rather than taking a more lucrative and unfulfilling position just to pay back loans. An artist or performer can afford to live frugally while pursuing their dreams in New York city without loan payments taking a chunk of their funds. For students looking to get into law, medical or dental school which all have prospects of heavy debt burdens, they are starting $25,000 ahead.

The advantage of not carrying around student loan baggage opens a new world of choices for recent grads, so I hope they choose wisely and embrace this opportunity.

Avoid the $1.7 Trillion Student Loan Crisis

Avoid the $1.7 Trillion Student Loan Crisis

Updated January 2021

The student loan debt crisis continues to grow at an astronomical rate.  In the last decade, student loan debt has ballooned by 102%. The nearly $1.7 trillion student loan debt crisis has surpassed auto loans and credit card debt and is second to only mortgage debt in the consumer loan category.

With planning and intentionality, you can avoid joining the $1.7 trillion student loan debt crisis.  On average, the Class of 2019 graduated college with $28,950 in student loan debt. Everyone says, “just take out student loans” but then no one wants to talk about how to pay back tens of thousands of dollars. Not everyone gets a high paying job after graduation, and not every student graduates. If you fail to finish, you still have to pay those student loans back.

Can you get a college education without taking on massive debt and adding to the student loan debt crisis? Making reponsbile choices, understanding the loan process and creating a plan can help you reduce your future student loan burden. 

Don’t Believe the Hype

Don’t believe the hype that says the only way to go to college is through debilitating student loan debt. That is a lie. It is possible to graduate in four-years, avoid or minimize student loan debt, complete multiple internships and have employers looking to recruit you after you graduate.

Families without college savings, or the ability to pay cash find themselves pressured to sign on the dotted line for student loans. They fall prey to the mass marketing that oversimplifies the impact of debt while only promoting the promise of a degree. A rule of thumb I often hear and agree with, your total student loan debt shouldn’t exceed your expected first-year earnings. If your projected income is $45,000 per year, your total student loan debt should not exceed that amount. 

Day after day you hear stories about millennials having buyer’s remorse over student loans. Graduates wishing they’d gone to a cheaper school, lived at home or saved money before going to college. They believed the hype that big loans were the only option and have since learned it wasn’t necessarily true.

So, the first thing you should do is separate yourself from the belief that big loans are the only option on the table. When you remove that option from the table, it will force you to evaluate your choices more carefully as well as be creative in paying for college.

 

 

 

via GIPHY

Pick a College You Can Actually Afford

Keep it simple. When shopping for a college, just like a picking car or house you need to have a realistic budget of what you can afford. Parents and students need to have the tough conversation before the search process begins. The conversations around the college budget should start in high school.

In 2021, the average private college tuition is around $35,087 with total costs around $53,000. In-state public school tuition averages $9,687. Knowing the numbers and understanding the costs of college are essential to evaluating offers. 

For some students, unfortunately there is no college savings, there is no 529 plan, there is nothing to help. For others, learning to live within and make choices within the limits of any savings is a must.  The scholarship search is intense and lengthy to score the type of money most students need. Many colleges also offer merit-based scholarships (scholarships based academic performance) to attract and help applicants.

The dream school, with the dream name, in the dream location might not be in the budget. You might be left with the option of taking on student loans, or searching for an alternative and affordable school that still checks most of your boxes. 

Every college financial aid or admissions website offers a tool called the net price calculator. It is a feature that allows you to input financial information and receive an estimate of what your financial aid package might look like, therefore giving you an estimated net price. 

The most affordable school is the one you can pay for without deep studen loan debt. 

 Expand Your Search 

Expand your search to include colleges you’ve probably never heard of. There are 4,000 colleges across the country. Start in your own backyard with public and private institutions within driving distance. Look beyond the big brand name.

As you continue through the search process you can narrow your focus from just cost to other factors.  Important considerations include academic major, school size, class size, location, unique programs, scholarships and overall fit to name a few.

When attending college fairs, virtual or in-person, take the time to explore schools you haven’t heard of. Just as importantly, don’t eliminate a school you grew up near just because “everyone goes there” or “it’s not far enough away”. You could be overlooking the right fit school that comes in at the right price. 

I graduated from two public colleges and I have also worked in college admissions at five private colleges. I’ve placed over 400 interns and newly hired grads with some of the biggest companies in the world. Success is based on you and your ability and your network, not just the name on your diploma.

student loan debt crisis

Take Dual Enrollment Classes in High School

There has been a rapid increase in dual enrollment programs. Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take college courses before they graduate. Students may complete a few courses or even graduate high school with an Associate’s degree from the participating college. The result could be major savings in college tuition.

In addition to cost savings, you also enter college with more confidence about your ability to do the work. Many colleges will still consider you an entering freshman making you eligible for freshman merit scholarship money. If your school offers this option, jump on it!

Consider a Gap Year to Save Money

gap year

The number of students taking a gap year is also on the rise, the most famous example probably being Malia Obama delaying entry into Harvard for a year. Well, at the moment, COVID-19 has shut down travel plans, however, your gap year doesn’t have to include travel.

My version of a gap year on a budget is about doing a few internships and working full-time or part-time to save money. Internships can also help you develop a true understanding of what career you want to follow. Set a goal to save enough money to pay for at least your first year in cash. Experiment with a low-cost start up business idea and learn new skills like computer coding, sales, or graphic design. 

Taking time off can also prevent changing majors multiple times (most students change majors three times before graduation). A year of working can increase focus as you learn more about yourself, your interests and what excites you.  Student loans are bad enough, but don’t take on student loans to pursue a career you don’t want. 

In a gap year, you may also start working full-time for an employer who can help you pay for school. Employers like Wegmans, Fed Ex, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and others offer scholarships to employees. When you look for a full or part-time job, take this factor into account and it could mean thousands of scholarship dollars to help pay for school. 

Attending Community College is Perfectly Fine

SUNY Oswego

My personal path involved attending a community college and earning an Associate’s degree before transferring to the State University of New York at Oswego. Most people actually don’t even know I went to a community college. It’s where and how you finish that matters, not where you start.

Was I disappointed that I didn’t go away like many of my friend’s freshman year? Ah, yes, but I eventually got over it with time. My parents paying cash for those first two years at community college was something I couldn’t fully appreciate then, but I do now.

With careful planning and an understanding of the transfer process, you can still graduate in four-years. I completed my Bachelor’s degree on time, with a transfer scholarship with no academic credit issues. It’s a process that you have to stay on top of from day one.

I didn’t finish college debt free, but who knows how bad it would have been if I took on loans for my first two years. I ended up with three degrees and $25,000 in student loan debt, most of that coming in graduate school. Student loans don’t have to be the kiss of death, but understand how much you are taking on, and have a plan to pay it back.

Living at home and attending a public university is one of the most affordable paths to a degree. Living at home after you earn your degree and attacking your student loan debt is also potentially life changing situation for you.

When I went to SUNY Oswego, tuition was $3,400 and the total cost of attendance was about $10,000. SUNY tuition in 2021 is only $6,470 which is still one of the best buys in public college education. All New York (SUNY) college tuition is the same price. For a student who lives at home and is willing to commute (even for a 1 or 2 years) attending a public university is one of the most affordable paths to a degree.

Remember Why You Are Going to College

I am a first generation college student. My father worked in facilities for Eastman Kodak for 20+ years and my mom had an in-home daycare.  Yes, college was fun. I met my best friend and made life long connections. I was personally and academically challenged, tried new things and learned new things.

At the end of the day, I went to college to create a future that would allow me to have a career. In the midst of my college fun, I did eight internships which I detail in my book, The Internship Manual and worked a bunch of part-time jobs so that I could have enough experience for my resume.

How badly do you want to go to college and avoid the student loan debt trap? Get a job, sell stuff on Ebay, drive Uber and save money. Most people can find extra money in their budget when they stop and think critically about needs versus want. If college is a need, get rid of the unnecessary wants.

Doing these things won’t bring a $54,000 per year school within reach. It will, however, make a $6,500 public school while living at home a realistic opportunity. One you might be able to do in cash or with the federal loan program.

Don’t lose site of the goal. Graduate college and start your career. Attending college is not a promise, but a privilege. Make the wise financial and academic decisions today that will give you more options in your future.

How and When to Check Your Credit Report

How and When to Check Your Credit Report




No matter where you are on your financial journey, it is important to know how and when to check your credit report. Your credit report is a complete collection of your credit history. 

You are entitled to one free credit report from each other major reporting bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian through annualcreditreport.com every calendar year. This credit report isn’t associated with any of those catchy commercials, it is free and there is no sign up required. You get one report from each of the three credit agencies once every 12 months.

When to Request Your Credit Report

It is important to check your credit report for errors. Each credit nureau could have different information. Accessing all three reports gives you a complete snapshot of the credit history lenders are using to determine how much to lend you. You want to make sure the information is up to date and accurate on all three reports.

In addition to making ure that information is accurate, you should also check yoru credit reports when planning to make major purchaes such as a home or car. Knowing your credit history and score can help in your planning of major purchases.

Understand that you will have access to your credit report, but not your credit score. Accessing your credit score can cost you, but there are many ways to get it for free. My credit union, two of my banks and my Discover card all provide me with free credit scores.  Check with your bank or credit union to see if that is a service they offer before you pay someone.

Reasons to Check Your Credit Today

  1. Planning a major purchase such as a house or car
  2. Before you rent an apartment
  3. To prevent or check for identify fraud
  4. Figure out your total debt

It doesn’t matter if you are a student, recent graduate or nearing retirement, if you want to tackle your money starting today, I want to join you on your journey.