The eternal question for any workplace hopeful: should I accept an amazing internship position if it’s unpaid? Well, the answer is: it depends on what you’re looking for and what your current financial situation is. If you feel like you’re stuck between an internship rock and a hard place while weighing your options, here’s a few things to consider:
- How many hours per week is the internship? If you’re working full-time without seeing a paycheck, then you might want to consider another option. A paying job that’s not as glamorous as a swanky internship is still better than said swanky internship. Why? Because college is expensive and money matters. That being said, if your unpaid internship offers great experience and is only one day per week, then it’s probably worth it.
- How good is the experience? If your internship is making coffee runs and photocopies, and it’s still unpaid, then maybe your time would be better spent somewhere else. On the other hand, if the internship is out of this world, and if it really would give you skills and experience that are of infinite value for future jobs in whatever industry you’d like to work then, then definitely consider going for it.
- Is academic credit available? While not all internships pay, many of them offer academic credit, which could save you money in the long run. For instance, if you can get some real-world experience while receiving a few credits, then that might be a homerun, especially if the internship is during the school year (when you may not be working anyway).
- Be honest: what do you want on your resume? You can’t forge a resume, so maybe you want to bite the bullet and take that unpaid internship, especially if it’s only for a month or two. Definitely don’t sell yourself short though: a bad internship is like a bad apple—it just doesn’t taste good and it’s not even nutritious. In other words, an unpaid internship you don’t like is by no means worth it.
- Gut check. Be honest with yourself: Are you okay with no compensation? Analyze your finances to help yourself arrive at a reasonable answer. Know what you can afford and what you can’t. If you take an unpaid internship, will you have to take out another student loan? Will you have time for a another paying job? Know the answers to these questions before accepting an unpaid internship.
Now that you’ve received all of your acceptance letters, you might be freaking out. After all, deciding which college to attend is a big deal, as it’s a four-year investment that leads you down a particular road in life. So while a college degree is a college degree no matter which way you slice it, every campus is a different experience. Here’s some advice to help you choose:
- Read, read, and read some more. Instead of making your decision on your own, stand on the shoulders of others (meaning: alumni or current students) and take in all the advice you can. Search the Internet and read a few blogs about peoples’ experiences at each school, look at important statistics such as retention rates, and read up on the location of your school, too.
- Talk. Take advantage of the resources around you. For example, your high school guidance counselor would be happy to help you if you’re stuck in a rut about what choice to make. Chances are your counselor will know a lot about each school, having watched other students attend them.
- Check your pockets. Like I said, college is a four-year investment—literally. College is an expensive decision, and if you go too far into debt then you’ll regret the decision no matter what. In short: be realistic. If you don’t think you can afford a particular college, then you most likely can’t; don’t delude yourself into thinking you can, and attend the school that’s within financial reach.
- Make a list. Instead of trying to keep track of everything in your head, make a concrete list of the pros and cons of each school. Make it a long list, and take everything you can think of into consideration. Then, it’s simple: the school with the most pros is your best bet.
- Take a close look at the curriculum. While it might be hard to map out your entire academic career, try reflecting on what you might like to do when you leave school. Then, once you have an idea of what you want to do, you can choose a college based on exactly what it has to offer—as some schools are well-known only for certain fields of study.
If you apply for a job or internship, chances are you’ll be contacted for a phone interview. Don’t be fooled, as this is an important step in obtaining a job. A solid phone interview often leads to an in-person interview, which can lead to a big opportunity. Here’s how to ace it:
1. Use a cheat sheet. When interviewing on the phone instead of in person, you have a major advantage: you can make a cheat sheet. Seize the opportunity to map out all of your talking points beforehand and lay them out in front of you to take the stress out of completely memorizing what you want to say. But have some flexibility. Just because you prepared for a certain question doesn’t mean your interviewer will ask it, so be ready for anything.
2. Find a quiet setting. Even though speaking with someone over the phone might seem casual, it’s not. Treat your phone interview like an in-person interview by avoiding distractions and finding a quiet place where there’s no background noise. Furthermore, sit in the place where you do work—it’s a small mental reminder that you’re on a work call, not a chat.
3. Use a good phone connection. If you can, use a landline to ensure clear sound and a trusty connection. If on your cell, make sure it’s completely charged, and check the quality of your service. If you can’t access a landline and if you’re uncomfortable using your personal phone then you can try using Skype, which has a reliable voice option if your internet is stable. There’s nothing worse, after all, than getting cut off mid-conversation.
4. Remember who you’re talking to. On the phone, it’s sometimes easy to forget who you’re not chatting with a friend. So keep an even pace, don’t interrupt, and stay professional. Every interview is different, but it’s wise to avoid telling jokes or using slang.
5. Practice. In the age of texting, Facebook chat, and e-mail, the art of speaking on the phone is getting tougher to master. But to do so, ask a friend or parent to pick up their phone and pretend they’re a potential employer. It might seem silly, but the lessons learned are invaluable. You’ll learn how to talk efficiently, how to think quickly, and how to handle pauses in conversation.
Say you’re required to take a science course, or a math course, or an English course, and none of these are your strong suits. Instead of freaking out about getting a lower grade on a paper than you’re happy with, or instead of banging your head against a wall while trying to figure out why you just couldn’t ace that exam despite your hours of studying, try showing your professor that you care about the class through participation. After all, most professors include participation as a substantial part of your grade for the semester. So, with that in mind, here are some helpful hints:
- Talk yourself into it. If there’s any participation grade at all, then why aren’t you doing your best to make sure you knock it out of the park? Participate in every class, whether you’re completely sure of an answer or not. After all, it’s called a “participation” grade, not a “you-have-to-get-this-question-correct-or-else” grade. Your professor won’t reprimand you for showing that you’re paying attention in class and attempting to get a grasp on the material. What they can do, though, is punish your GPA if you sit through their class in complete silence. So speak up.
- Practice makes perfect. If you’re so afraid of public speaking that even speaking from your chair in front of all your classmates is kind of crippling, then take some baby steps. Participate in a small seminar instead of a lecture at first, then work your way up. Or, start participating in classes where you’re most comfortable with the material, then move to the more challenging ones. That way, you’ll get a feel for what it’s like to share your opinion or an answer with others, out loud. Like any skill, participation is a muscle, so work it out.
- Ask a question. If you really can’t answer a question in class, or if you are already sharing your opinion on a topic, then don’t hesitate to raise your hand in order to ask a question. Often, a good question (and any question is a good question, right?) will push class discussion, and teachers love that. Plus you’ll probably be asking a question one of your classmates had, anyways, so you’ll be helping them out too. At any rate, you’re professor will see that you care enough to think and to ask, which can only give your grade a little boost.
Life in college is expensive. I mean, come on, you’ve got bills to pay: that takeout pizza, those school supplies, and not to mention that monstrous tuition bill that eats at your wallet like a crazed Pac-Man. With that in mind, whether you qualify for federal work-study or not, you should do your best to find a job on campus in order to make some easy cash—or at least some spending money. Not sure which job is the best? Here are some common campus employment opportunities that will leave you as happy as the check in your pocket:
- Library assistant. Whether you’re posted up at the reference desk or at the circulation desk, keeping track of books and library materials, this job is kind of a breeze. Of course, the school library isn’t the most hectic or stressful place around, and by virtue of what it is, it’s usually always quiet. What does that mean? Not only are you on the clock for working, but you’ll likely be able to get some reading for class done. Getting paid to do homework? Score.
- The dining hall. I know what you’re thinking: Seriously, the dining hall? Are you crazy? I definitely don’t want to work in the dining hall. True: working with food—especially leftover food—can be kind of gross. And yeah, wiping down table or cleaning dishes might not be the most glamorous job, but hey, you get to experience the customer service business, and more, you can appreciate your own dining time that much more when you can put your feet up and relax. Plus, your parents would probably like to hear that you’re putting in some blood, sweat, and tears in order to earn your keep.
- Residence Assistant. Being a residence assistant (RA) might be the most lucrative job on campus, as you get paid a ton of money, and some schools even offer perks such as free parking, free board, or a free meal plan. While the duties of a residence assistant might be demanding, and while you might not want to be responsible for keeping track of and possibly disciplining your peers, the benefits are obvious: you get to organize social events and be a major leader on campus, all for money.
- Career services. If you snag the opportunity to work in career services, say, as an office assistant, then you’ll get to see all the career opportunities as they come in, and you’ll be surrounded by those who know how to land you a future job. Hey, getting ahead is always good, right? Especially if it comes with a paycheck.
- Art gallery. Art galleries on campus need someone to check visitors in, and that person is often a student. So why not you? Be a loyal patron of the arts as well as a student worker in one fell swoop.