Consider this before you take on an unpaid internship

Amongst the flurry of essays, exams, social nights out, and society socializations, comes the thing that students tread the most: internships. And perhaps even worse: unpaid internships.

If there is one thing I’ve learned all too well, it’s how to live the unpaid internship lifestyle. Balancing and maintaining an income while spending most of your time at an unpaid internship can be a difficult task. Keeping a dollar in your bank account becomes a difficult task between work, school, and play.

Nevertheless, even when you find the balance you need, working for credit only is never easy. With all of the expenses that come with uni life, it’s hard to convince yourself that experience could be more directly beneficial than working for £8.38 at the pub up the street.

The experience though can mean a lot for your future, and with a couple of tips and tricks, getting through an unpaid internship can be a breeze.


Don’t be afraid to ask for a stipend. While most internships will state on the application if they will offer a daily stipend, a large handful will actually not say if they are willing or not. Thus, you never know what they’re willing to pay until you ask.

Of course, wait until you’ve been offered the internship, and are accepting the position to ask. It’s completely appropriate for you to ask if you can be compensated for travel weekly or monthly. The worst-case scenario?

They say no. And you end up in the same position. You thank them for their time and walk away knowing that you at least attempted to cover further costs.

However, a small handful of employers will bluntly say “no.” The majority will raise the question with whichever department is in charge of money in order to attempt to work something out. But, even in the result of a no, it’s better than not asking at all.


Regardless of stipends, the cheapest route is always the best route when it comes to paid internships. Employers will be quick to notice if your travel receipts add up to the same price as an adequate paycheck.

The best course of action is to use one mode of transportation and stick to it unless delays or bad weather days come about. Not only will this make your employers happy if they have decided to have given you a stipend, but it will also make you happy if they haven’t.

Taking the same route and using the same method every day is important for budgeting your finances. If walking and biking are options, then opt for those methods. Saving money is the main aim of the game.


Balancing your schedule is so important in order to prevent burnout. Throw the “pick two” triangle out the window. Overworking yourself could lead to you losing sight of what work experience is truly about.

Internships are meant to grow your understanding of what you might want to do; an opportunity to learn what you do and don’t like about the industry or particular department.

This shouldn’t be a stressful experience. Your priority lies with university, and your employer will understand that, especially if they aren’t paying you. Remember to take time out for studying and having “you” time.

Love what you do, do what you love

The only thing that’s worse than not loving what you do is not getting paid for it. Nothing is more difficult than finding excitement in not having money and just purely enjoying the work.

Always make what you don’t like known. Honesty is the best policy. And if there is anything that you can do in order to enjoy yourself, then take initiative. Take any projects that you have in mind and get them done while you have the resources. Set goals to reach.

Employers love watching interns tick off their goals. Learning is the key to any internship- use your opportunities wisely.

Words: Jillian Keith

Images: Jillian Keith, Josh Appel on Unsplash, Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash, Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash, Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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