Budgeting for the important internship experience

By Gwyneth Helm, University of Missouri

Finding an internship is a daunting task we almost all can relate to at some point or another. You may be wondering which companies to apply to, what types of internships you’re interested in and which cities are the best fit. Although these questions may swirl around your head, the excitement of landing your dream internship often overshadows the bleak reality that these experiences often come with a price tag, and a large one at that.

This past spring semester I found myself applying to internships across the country at many different outlets hoping I could find a fulfilling experience in a new city to explore. I knew the importance of landing an internship to help me grow in my field and to make my application stand out for future employers. In fact, research has found that employers are more likely to hire a candidate for full-time employment if they have completed an internship.

I found myself sifting through long lists of internships and applied to media companies far and wide that I have always dreamed of working for. As a journalism major interested in the entertainment field, New York and Los Angeles were my focus markets. But what do these two cities have in common? The high cost of living.

I knew early on that if I wanted an internship in a new city, I needed to find one that was paid. I would have to suffice on my own and make my paychecks cover my summer expenses which is exactly what I did.

Once the spring semester ended, I moved to Los Angeles where I had a dream internship in exactly the field I see a future career in. I was paid an hourly wage and I found myself trying to balance the cost of living as well as setting aside money to explore. As a college student, it is easy to get ahead of yourself and want to spend money on experiential things. However, it is of the utmost importance to ration out your earnings in a way that makes it possible to both survive and have fun while working.

What are the ways I saved money in Los Angeles? To begin with, I lived in college housing in the local area. Although it may not have been the most desirable option, it was substantially cheaper than any apartment would have been. Next, I shopped at grocery stores that were cheaper alternatives.

Any large city will have these discount stores as long as you look hard enough. Frankly, I found them to be even better quality than their more expensive counterparts (it’s a win-win situation). Additionally, I sought out the cheapest gas prices which I consistently found at the same small gas station down the street. While these strategies are small ways to save money, every dollar counts when you’re paying the price to live in a big city and trying to make do with an hourly internship salary.

Looking forward to the future as college students is an easy thing to do when there is so much ahead of you. I took a risk and accepted an internship away from home while surviving on my own income. Was it hard? Yes. Were there sacrifices I needed to make? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I still pinch myself today knowing what a great opportunity the internship was along with the lasting memories and knowledge that came from it. For anyone struggling to decide if an internship in an expensive city is worth it, it is. Take a step toward your future career, but be sure to finance it in a smart way.

Gwyneth Helm is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism

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