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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Unpaid Internships: When You Have to Ask Your Parents for Money

No one really debates whether or not college students should seek internships—that’s pretty much a no-brainer. What is often up for debate, though, is whether it’s a good idea to take one that's unpaid.

Many would say, if it’s the right opportunity that will get you great experience in your field, well then of course you should take it! But not getting a paycheck presents a problem—a problem the size of your rent, utilities, bills, and living expenses combined, to be exact. And many college students and recent grads find themselves in the not-so-fun position of asking Mom and Dad for some extra cash to pursue an otherwise awesome opportunity.

So if you’re in that boat, here’s how to navigate (and take some pain out of) the situation.

Swallow Your Pride

Whether your parents are helping you out already or not, it’s never fun to ask them for more financial support. That said, as painful as it is—it’s OK. Remember that you’re not alone, and in fact, many, many people are finding themselves in a similar situation right now. An unpaid internship is a good investment in your career—one that will help you gain the experience that you need, get your foot in the door with a company, and make great contacts. But it’s still an investment that comes with a price. And that price might be biting the bullet and asking for some help.

Focus on the Positives

That said, your parents might not be so thrilled about the idea of you working for free, especially if there are other (paid) options out there, so you’ll need to explain your rationale (and not just assume you’re entitled to that money). Start off by outlining the positives: the tangible work experience you’ll gain, the contacts you’ll make, and how the opportunity will help you land a job you have your eye on in the future. Show them that you're determined to be successful in your chosen career, and illustrate to them the importance of taking an internship—whether it's paid or not.

Then, show that you’ve thought through the costs. Will you need to move and pay rent somewhere else? How much travel time (and gas or subway fare) will it take to get there? Being able to show how your plan will work logistically will demonstrate that you’ve thought things through (and will give them a better idea of how much you’re really asking them for).

Listen to What They Say

Of course, even after you’ve made a convincing pitch, your parents may still have questions or reservations about you doing unpaid work. Plan on them including their own two cents—and take what they say seriously, and give thoughtful answers to their questions. Sure, they grew up in a different world—one in which unpaid internships weren’t the norm—but that doesn't mean they won’t have some valid points for you to consider.

Also think about how you might meet them halfway. You could ask them to chip in half of what you need or see if they could give you a loan that you’ll pay back once you score a paid job.


Go for Plan B

If your parents still aren’t thrilled about the idea of financially supporting you through your unpaid internship, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to give up the opportunity. Check with your financial aid office for options it has available, as many colleges give out scholarships, grants, or loans to help students who want to pursue unpaid internships.

And if not—and if there’s no way you can financially make an unpaid internship work—keep in mind that it’s not the end of the world. It certainly isn’t going to ruin your career path. While it might be painful to give up what seems like an amazing opportunity right now, there are other ways to get good experience, and get a paycheck, too.

For more in this series, check out: Internship Week

Photo courtesy of Paul Hamilton.