What do college students with unpaid internships do for money?

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Summertime poses as the perfect opportunity for students to make and earn money for the up-and-coming school year but with more and more summer internships failing to offer compensation for their time students can struggle to make ends meet.

“When I first got my internship I was so excited,” said Michigan State University pre-med student Ali Beydoun, “then found out it was unpaid and I got a little worried. I want and most importantly need the experience that my internship offers but summer is the time when I usually can earn some spending money for the school year.”

Beydoun said he is trying to balance three unpaid summer internships. He has an internship at Spartan orthotics and prosthetics, works at the Outpatient Rehab for Sparrow Hospital, and is doing research at the medical school in Fee Hall.

“I actually have three unpaid internships this summer,” said Beydoun. “While that’s not ideal, I have to have these internships to be ahead for med school, but at the same time, I can’t just keep racking up this crazy debt.”

According to College Board, “Between 2011-12 and 2016-17, published tuition and fee prices rose by 9% in the public four-year sector, by 11% at public two-year colleges, and by 13% at private nonprofit four-year institutions, after adjusting for inflation.

“I have four years of student loans to pay off alone when I finish, so if I can’t start making some money now, it’s just going to keep adding up,” said Beydoun.

Due to rising tuition rates, there has also been an increase in student loans acquired. College Board also explains that Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, graduate student borrowing through Unsubsidized Direct Loans for graduate students, grew by 17 percent from $7.6 billion to $8.9 billion.

Millennials are having to live with their parents and reap the funding benefits for much longer these days due to a lack of income. The Business Insider reports that “nearly one in three millennials lives in their parents’ home.” Could the fact that students are only eligible to earn college credit as opposed to a paycheck be part of the problem?

“Having a son who has three unpaid internships this summer makes it extremely difficult for him to earn any money,” said Beydoun’s mother, Donna Iacovacci. “I see him wanting to get another paying job, so he can earn money to go out and have fun with, but I know that he doesn’t have the time to do that.”

Some students are lucky enough to have their parents by their side to help support them.

“I do as much as I can to give him money from time to time so that he can still go out and have some fun and buy some things he needs,” said Iacovacci.

A lot of students like this attempt to seek alternate forms of payment. Whether that might be finding a second job; becoming a waiter/waitress, working on a golf course, working in retail, babysitting, or even just mowing your neighbor’s lawn.

“I told my son that he needed to go out and find a part-time side job so that he could support his spending habits next fall,” said Iacovacci, “He wasn’t happy about adding on a fourth job potentially, but I know he’ll be happy when he has that spending money come fall when school starts.”

There has to be a balance between the importance of the internship, and the importance of finances, says Iacovacci.

“It’s important for him to learn to work hard for his money, so he doesn’t spend it frivolously. I think having an unpaid internship is a huge challenge,  but it also teaches a person a lot and great work ethic,” said Iacovacci.

Another challenge these students face is the lack of time as a result of their internship taking up a big chunk of time making it more difficult for them to find a side paid job, said Beydoun.

“When I first started my internship, I thought I’d be able to get a little part-time job that paid, but with the extensive hours I’ve been working, it’s impossible for any job to schedule me around my internship requirements,” said Beydoun, “It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. So, unfortunately, I have not found a paid job that can cater to my crazy schedule.”

Some students have the opportunity to earn college credit for your internship as opposed to a paycheck. Many universities require that you work for a specific amount of hours per week to achieve some level of credit.

Depending on how many hours they need, the time commitment can be a challenge for someone who cannot afford not to get paid. Thankfully, some universities, like Michigan State University, can offer some relief to students with unpaid internships.

“Our career services office works very hard to keep relationships and partnerships with local, state-wide as well as national businesses and organizations to offer great internship opportunities for students,” said Academic and Career Advisor for the College of Communication Arts & Sciences, Liz Jorgensen. “If a student is facing unforeseen challenges to finding or accepting an internship, our office does out best to connect them with an internship that will best fit their major, location, budget, etc.”

If you are an MSU undergraduate participating in an unpaid internship, there is a program designed to encourage and support students in finding experiential learning opportunities that help you prepare for your career.
“Annually our college offers a scholarships for students who are interning for the summer, the ComArtSci Internship Financial Assistance Award,” said Jorgensen.

It is funded by the generosity of the MSUFCU and individual donors and is administered through the MSU Career Services Network. Stipend awards of up to $1,000 each are available.  The number of awards and dollar amounts will be based on available program funds and demonstrated student interest and need.

Despite the hardships that come with unpaid internships students can seek many alternate ways to help make ends meet while they gain experience for their future careers to set them ahead of the pack. These type of internships are designed to have a much greater educational payoff down the road than any dollar amount can buy.

“I think if I keep a positive attitude about my experiences this summer I’ll find ways to make money and push through the financial challenges. I know that even though I am not getting paid right now, the experience will pay off for me down the road,” said Beydoun.

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