I Can’t Afford an Unpaid Internship: Now What?

Image Credit:  Camilla Gutierrezh   

Image Credit: Camilla Gutierrezh  

According to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, (NACE) 65% of bachelor degree graduates from the Class of 2015 participated in an internship, and 61% of those interns were unpaid. While internships provide great experience and seem to be extremely important to build up a resume, they aren’t realistic for a lot of students. The number of students obtaining degrees is rising, and so is the number of students in debt, forcing many to work throughout college instead of interning for free.

If you are one of the many students struggling financially, you may be thinking, “I can’t afford an internship. What now?” As much as it may appear that internships are required to obtain a decent job post-graduation, there are many ways to get around not having any on your resume.


In a society where everything costs a lot, there are many free resources at our fingertips that are completely underutilized. You may have to work in a restaurant to make money, but that doesn’t prevent you from learning about your desired industry and building skills which would typically be obtained through an unpaid internship.

A great example of this is social media marketing (SMM). If you don’t have the luxury of working as an intern, take advantage of free resources and articles to learn the tools you might learn through an internship. There are a lot of great articles on how to build content and utilize SMM platforms.  


Working through college instead of taking an internship doesn’t mean that you can’t find a job that relates to your career. This takes a bit of research, but there are a lot of job sites that are geared toward specific careers, making it easy for you to apply to jobs that would boost your resume. (i.e. Dice.com for tech and IT jobs) If there doesn’t seem to be a job site dedicated to the career of your dreams, you’ll have to get creative. The number one issue people have when writing a resume is that they don’t show how the jobs and skills they have relate to the job they’re applying for. You have be creative in how you highlight the skills you’ve obtained so that they correlate to the job to which you're applying. 

For instance, if you want to be in journalism but aren’t able to afford taking an internship at a media powerhouse, try to find a paying job in places like publishing companies, universities, or even a library. This might sound odd, but most places have some sort of a newsletter or blog which needs to be written, and if you can observe or get involved in the process, you can utilize this job on your resume as journalism experience. Even if you’re working as an administrative assistant at a company that interests you/aligns with your career goals, you’ll be able to observe and soak up useful information that will help you later.


We’ve all been there. Don’t compare yourself to others, because all it will do is psych you out. The most important thing is to remember that you’re making a huge accomplishment and taking on a lot of responsibility by working and going to school. This not only shows that you are motivated, but it shows your strength and reliability. When in doubt, remember that employers want to hire someone who can work hard and get things done. Regardless of how many internships someone has, if they aren’t someone who is reliable and works hard to meet goals and deadlines, they aren’t worth hiring.

"When in doubt, remember that employers want to hire someone who can work hard and get things done."

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When writing your resume, make sure you highlight your achievements in each job. Even if your job is unrelated, highlight what you’ve accomplished there. If you’re working in a restaurant, highlight the fact that you consistently provide exceptional customer service, handle customer disputes, and maintain a professional demeanor at all times. Many people have had to work through school to pay the bills, so most hiring managers understand and respect this.


If you’re in a class that you love, or one you view to be beneficial to your career, get involved. Talk to the professor and explain that you’re interested in the subject, and would love to get involved in any projects or opportunities that come up. Most professors value enthusiasm, and many have paid positions available for students who inquire about it. If you’re lucky enough to secure one of those paid positions, you’ll get the best of both worlds, (money and experience) but even if you simply get involved in class projects as a group leader, or take part in extracurricular activities, that gives you industry related experience to highlight on your resume.

The more industry related experience you can highlight on your resume, the better, so take advantage of what’s in front of you. This goes back to the first section about utilizing free resources. Colleges offer a ton of resources in career development and education, so reach out and see what they have to offer.

A native San Franciscan, Michele Lando is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and founder of writestylesonline.com. She has a passion for helping others present the best version of themselves, both on paper and in person, and works to polish individuals' application package and personal style. Aiming to help create a perfect personal branding package, Write Styles presents tips to enhance your resume, style, and boost your confidence.

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