By Daniel Noonan
Old academic halls, crammed libraries on finals week, and Frisbee on the quad are staples of American college life and are often revered as essentials to the college experience. Colleges and universities across America are now adding a fourth aspect to that list that seems to make or break a lot of students overall worthwhile of a traditional four-year degree. That is the undergrad internship.
It is no denying the importance of what can often be less than six months at a professional level, internships can often times lead to job offers for students or give them an idea of whether or not their major is working for them. In my four and a half years at the University of Missouri I have found myself in several internships and have done three in one of America’s most expensive cities for young people to live in.
My time in Washington, D.C. as an intern was easily the most formative time in my undergrad. But Washington is expensive and I found myself living on a strict budget. Here are my tips to keep costs low:
- Knowing Your Goal
Students may think that an internship in a large city is needed to compete with peers, but that might not fit in with your overall goal. For example, a student who wants to live in the Midwest might need to find an internship on a coast. If living in a big city is necessary, then look for scholarships or grants to fill the gap. If an internship is available in a city that a relative might let you live in a guest room, that might be a better option than sometimes spending $2,000 on housing for a summer.
College forces us to asses our own financial situation to determine if going for a position in an expensive city is able to happen.
- Preliminary Inquiries
Congratulations, you assessed yourself and determined what works best for you. Next, let’s estimate your expenses:
- What is the cost of housing and food?
- Is your internship paid or unpaid?
- Will I need a car?
- How much is public transportation?
- Will I need to buy business clothes?
These are very important questions to think about. As someone who spent a semester in Washington, I needed around $2,000 saved up to live comfortably there. Some students need more, some students need less. Additionally, I was lucky to have had a University grant cover my housing in tuition.
Also, most times it is on you to find these internships. Finding them can often be a daunting challenge for students. It requires knowing when the recruitment timeline is in specific industries as well as whether or not you desire academic credit. Another point of thumb is that sometimes summer internships are more competitive because of a larger applicant pool.
- What to Know Before Leaving
My biggest advice I can give to someone who gets an internship in a big market city is to go for clothes that will last. I would recommend that for holiday gifts you make clothes be an important item on your wish list. I often look for durability and items that will last a couple to several years. Another expense that you might need to know is dry cleaning. Suits should always be dry-cleaned. Dress shirts on the other hand can be washed if you do it properly and bought a washing machine friendly shirt.
Another thing you will need to know is that outside of college towns, fast food and company cafeterias can be huge drains on your financial resources. I would recommend looking into grocery stores in your area and start prepping ways to get there in order to bring your lunch and make dinner while spending your time there. If you can sign up for a grocery rewards program, do it!
- When You are There
My biggest cost when I was in Washington was food. One of the biggest ways to cut down on food expenses is to do potluck meals with roommates. You probably will wind up living with roommates in a large city, and making food with them is an easy way to meet new people and combine ingredients. These are the people you will be spending a good portion of time with and everyone enjoys the roommate who likes cooking (clean up your dishes afterwards).
Another thing that winds up draining money is transportation. Rideshare apps can really drain your finances if you are using it as your main source of travel. Splitting rides with friends can help bring this cost down although the biggest way to do this is to walk a little bit or use public transportation.
- Hidden Costs/Costs that Will Help You in the Long Run
I am a big proponent of using ‘Thank You’ cards. It really is the icing on the cake of a good internship. I highly recommend purchasing them. They are sold at most college bookstores and often times are a determinant on ending things on a high note.
I also enjoy the pad folio to keep your papers and notes in. It looks professional; it prevents creases in papers, and really has the potential to impress your supervisors. Once again, buy one at your university bookstore or online before going.
My last one that I think is overlooked but is very helpful is the good old-fashioned umbrella. I can not begin to tell you how many times this has saved me from showing up to an internship looking like I just got out of a pool. A lot of college students forget about this until it is the midst of a heavy downpour but I highly recommend having one on hand.
Daniel Noonan is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.