Students weigh internships, pay

As students weave through the snow-covered Yale campus, establishing new routes to their second semester classes and dreaming of spring break, summer seems an eternity away. But drop the phrase “summer internship,” and suddenly it seems the approaching months will collapse on each other like dominoes, leaving the students warm but unemployed come June.

During the rush for summer employment, students frequently find themselves looking into two categories of internships: paid and unpaid. While some private and corporate companies offer generous pay to their college interns, other career tracks give little or no financial compensation. Government, social services, education, and the arts are just a few fields that usually do not pay their interns, Undergraduate Career Services director Philip Jones said

Working throughout the summer without pay poses a challenge to many students, especially if the job requires moving to a city and finding housing. Even students with paid internships said they had trouble supporting themselves for the summer, and could not imagine surviving on an unpaid internship.

“There’s no way I could have lived in New York City without having some sort of paid internship,” said Andrea Kay ’05, who made $290 a week interning at a book publishing company last summer.

Kay’s parents covered her rent, food and travel expenses, but because living in New York City is so expensive, she barely saved any money for the year, Kay said.

“My money went toward dinners, cab rides and drinks,” she said. “I hardly bought any clothes at all. It’s hard, you want to live this glamorous lifestyle because you’re in New York City.”

Liba Rubenstein ’06 lived at home last summer while she interned in New York City at Teach for America. Although she made $2,300, she said it would have been impossible for her to pay for living expenses, even on that salary.

But Jones insisted there are a variety of strategies and funding options that can make low-paid, and even unpaid, internships feasible.

“A mistake students make is to take the all-or-nothing approach,” Jones said. “There is an idea that either I get this internship and it’s going to be paid for, or I’m not going to do it. It can be more flexible than that.”

Many of the residential colleges, as well as Yale departments, offer funding to students for particular endeavors, Jones said. He said many organizations will negotiate payment with interns, especially small non-profits without a fully structured internship program.

When Rubenstein worked at a small history journal in Boston another summer, she negotiated a stipend for herself — $3,500 for the summer — even though the magazine’s other intern was unpaid.

“If you take that risk, and do it respectfully, public service organizations don’t have a lot of money, but often they will help you,” Rubenstein said.

While working in Boston, Rubenstein was also resourceful about saving money on meals. She ate at friends’ houses and spent time at the Harvard Coop, pitching in to cook their big meals.

“If I had eaten every meal at Harvard Square, I would have used up every bit of money that I made,” she said.

Taking risks in other ways, such as asking friends or connections for help with housing, is another great strategy that students are often afraid to pursue, Jones said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of strength in the Yale network itself,” Jones said. “There’s an amazing number of couches with Yale students sleeping on them each summer.”

Another funding option for students is to work part-time, either working a few days a week while they intern, or splitting the summer between interning and working.

A few summers ago, interested in testing out a political career, Diana Dosik ’06 worked part-time as a hostess to support herself while she interned for a senator.

“I think most people select their internship based on what they want to do in the future, not on whether it is paid,” Dosik said.

If this is the case, then many students pass up easy street and choose to travel a rockier road to their dream job. But for students whose future aspirations fall into the corporate sphere, long hours in the office are usually compensated with cushier salaries. According to Jones, almost all private sector and corporate internships are paid.

Dosik interned the last two summers at Goldman Sachs, and said life was definitely easier than the summer of her political internship. She made over $10,500 per summer at Goldman Sachs, although she said that after taxes, she only ended up with about $7,000. She managed to save about $4,000 after expenses.

“I was definitely covered in terms of living in New York,” Dosik said.

She added that Goldman gives its interns a $1,000 housing stipend, and other perks arise throughout the summer.

“They also have a lot of social events, so I didn’t have to pay for some meals,” she said. “It’s definitely harder if you’re doing a less interesting job like hostessing in addition to your internship.”

Alex Cohen ’08 interned at Merrill Lynch last summer and lived in a New York City apartment with a friend. He made $600 a week, which amounted to about $5,500 over the summer. Yet even with that pay, his parents helped out by covering his rent. Money he made through the internship went toward meals, going out with friends, and his savings.

“It would have been a really expensive summer if [the internship] had been unpaid,” Cohen said.

Students who can find internships close to home avoid a huge part of the funding dilemma — finding a place to stay.

Kirk Porter ’08 interned at the State’s Attorney Office last summer. Because he lives outside D.C., Porter could commute from his house.

“I plan to get another unpaid internship, and hopefully I can live at home or at school with friends,” he said.

Ultimately, Jones advises students to be persistent and resourceful as they search for internships.

“You’ve got to be immensely creative in this process,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and you don’t have to get all of your funding from one source. There’s no one size fits all.”

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